I remember when I first heard about the so-called Defense of Marriage Act back in the early 90′s my first thoughts were naively that there was actually an effort being made to help prevent so many misguided kids get married and thereby decrease the divorce rate and number of so-called ‘broken’ homes, or in some other way try to bolster the institution of marriage as the core of the family unit.
Nope … it was a buzzword laden title that the neocons really meant ‘we find homosexuality abhorrent, but since we can’t make it illegal we have to at least stop them from getting legally married’. And Bill ‘Slick Willie’ Clinton signed it into law, meaning that unlike so many other things (including heterosexual marriage), same-sex marriage was something that needn’t be recognized from one state to the next.
And THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT. I lived in Massachusetts when it was the first state to legalize homosexual marriage, and during the nearly four years we lived there after the legalization before moving to western NY we witnessed a descent into anarchy, chaos, tribal marriages, people marrying their Swiss Army Knives, pandemonium, until the sea finally swallowed up the entire eastern half of the state and we were forced to move.
What? None of that happened? Oh … never mind. In fact, here is a great quote describing what DID happen:
“Gay marriage has begun, and life has not changed for the citizens of the commonwealth, with the exception of those who can now marry.”
Why do I mention this? Am I hopping on some sort of agenda-pushing soap-box? Yes, but not the one you might think!
Last week three things happened in my tiny sphere of the world: a family that had been living broken in half across more than 1500 miles made a step towards being reunited after the mother and daughter moved away to help her pursue Olympic dreams; two families our younger son was friends with moved away before school started last year, one to reunite (husband worked 4 hours away and only saw each other on weekends) and one to move to a different location … and last week we heard that both had divorced; and finally while chatting with friends from Massachusetts we heard of four (!) divorces amongst friends from our kids in the small town of 10,000 over the last few months. And the first one was a surprise – we really thought that was headed for divorce as well.
That isn’t really anything new – I talk to friends at work and there are constant tales of divorce, infidelity, abuse and other problems. Marriage has been in a state of crisis for a very long time, with the divorce rate somewhat stabilizing in recent years but still very high. The reasons are manifold – people can certainly change over time, or fail to change in spite of multiple attempts, and of course our ‘disposable society teaches us that it is OK to return party dresses after use and to ‘try out’ marriage without consequence. Only there are always consequences – especially when there are children involved.
The reason that hit home was that late last month the New York Times had a report on a Brookings Institute study that showed that married couples no longer represent a majority of households:
Married couples represented just 48 percent of American households in 2010, according to data being made public Thursday and analyzed by the Brookings Institution. This was slightly less than in 2000, but far below the 78 percent of households occupied by married couples in 1950.
What is more, just a fifth of households were traditional families — married couples with children — down from about a quarter a decade ago, and from 43 percent in 1950, as the iconic image of the American family continues to break apart.
To me this seems like common sense – the world now is not the one I grew up in, and certainly not the one my parents grew up in. The mother-at-home / father-at-work dichotomy no longer dominates, and ideas of success and fulfillment for both genders are not tied to uniting and procreating as soon as possible as they were in the post-war years.
Advertising research site AdAge looks at the demographics side of those numbers, and presents it this way:
What they note is that you cannot assume a ‘Ozzie & Harriet’ model … or even a ‘Brady Bunch’ model, when what you really have is a mix of ‘Charles In Charge’, ‘Mork & Mindy’, ‘My Two Dads’, ‘Laverne & Shirley’ and on and on.
Bottom line – the new ‘normal’ is that there IS NO NORMAL! So advertising in a way that says that a REAL family is only complete with Mother, Father and Children actually ostracizes the MAJORITY of people!
Which brings me back to ‘defense of marriage’. Does marriage need defending? Absolutely – but I would say that it needs defending more from ‘stunt marriages’ and revolving door marriages than from truly loving same-sex marriages.
Of course, one issue is that marriage has two meanings – religious and ‘commercial’. The religious act of marriage is dependent upon the given sect recognizing the union, which can be limited by any number of things like age, religious affiliation of both entrants, prior marital status of both parties, and so on.
But as any married couple can tell you, the state of marriage comes with a lot of implications with respect to … well, the state. Your entire financial status is intertwined, from taxes to liabilities to rates given to credit history and more. In the event of illness you are by default the go-to person for your spouse legally, and have all of the say in what happens when they are deceased. Children – whether genetically linked or adopted – are legally bound to both spouses … and so on.
I was chatting with someone the other day about this and asking about why we would want to ‘defend marriage’ in the first place? For me it is all about partnership and children. For children, growing up in a loving environment shows them healthy attitudes and ways to treat others: I remember coaching sports at the early elementary age, and I would see kids who treated other kids badly – especially boys being derisive to girls – and that behavior was almost always modeled upon the way their father treated their mother.
As for the partnership aspect, I am fortunate to have been married nearly 20 years to the woman of my dreams, someone I thought was pretty cool 25 years ago when I first met her and still think is awesome today. I have been by her side in times of need, as she has done for me … and we know we can be there for each other for the rest of our lives, and the state will stand behind us without having to deal with extra hurdles due to irrelevant factors.
Am I trying to push an agenda? Not particularly, but I can certainly say that there are any number of things that have had a greater negative impact in the last seven years than the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts. So my agenda would be the ‘Happy Home Protection Act‘ … let’s work together to make sure kids (and adults) know what they are getting into before getting married, and know that no one has to put up with abuse and that getting out of a relationship that is physically or psychologically unhealthy is not failure; let’s focus on kids growing up with the realization that there are many more people who are different from them than the same and that almost everyone just wants to be happy; and let us rejoice and celebrate in a loving household whether it is made up of a man and women or any combination of the two – and let’s separate religion and the state so that churches can do what they want while the state does what is right.
Now THAT is what I call Defense of Marriage. And maybe if we do that, the numbers of married households would rise to the majority once again.