NPR reports that mixed marriages don’t work. It’s not talking about mixed race or mixed religion, it’s about mixed politics. Democrats and Republicans make for bad bedfellows. What NPR doesn’t discuss is marriages in which one partner has a mid-marriage political conversion. Believe me when I saw that doing so is as bad, if not worse than, having an affair.
The Left has been kerfuffling lately when it comes to the age by which women should marry. (If “to kerfuffle” isn’t a verb, it should be.) The kerfuffle (now I’m using it as a noun) started when Susan Patton, who was one of the first women admitted to Princeton, wrote an opinion piece in The Daily Princetonian advising young women not to wait, but to get married while still in college:
For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.
Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate. Yes, I went there.
I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians. My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone. My younger son is a junior and the universe of women he can marry is limitless. Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated. It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty. Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal. As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again–you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.
The Left was outraged, accusing Patton of trying to reinstate the sexist old joke that, when women go to college, the degree they’re looking for isn’t a B.A. or B.S., it’s an M.R.S. James Taranto nicely sums up the outrage Patton’s opinion piece sparked:
Many of the attacks on Patton were notable for their infinitesimal ratio of ratiocination to emotion. “Oh no,” wrote Maureen O’Connor of New York magazine, adding: “Ugh.” She sarcastically characterized Patton’s argument thus: “Touching the flesh of an older woman will actually cause a man to wither and disintegrate into dust.” (To her credit, O’Connor phoned Patton a few hours later and conducted what seems to have been an entirely civil interview.)
“Why would the Daily Princetonian publish such inanity?” demanded Katie Baker of Jezebel.com. “Patton could’ve saved herself a lot of time and energy by simply writing ‘[obscenity redacted] my youngest son while you have the chance!’ ” Gawker.com’s Caity Weaver got even nastier and grosser: “If Susan A. Patton had daughters, she would be encouraging them to marry their brothers, for there is no finer achievement in a woman’s life than securing the prized stallion that is a Susan A. Patton boy.”
Slate.com’s Amanda Marcotte made something of an effort at a substantive rebuttal. In the course of an epic tweet-down Saturday, she cited the strong correlation between college education and marriage as if it refuted Patton’s argument (and this columnist’s defense of it). We explained last year why that correlation is far less encouraging than feminists wish it to be, but in any case Marcotte’s argument was a non sequitur.
Typically for Taranto, he also has the correct rebuttal to the feminists’ argument, which boils down to the fact that biology means that women do have a childbearing, child-rearing imperative that starts to time out as they get older. Also, while they’re male peers can look downwards (both on the age scale and the education scale) for a mate, professional women are stuck looking for someone their own age to meet these biological demand. They’re looking for the men, but the men aren’t looking for them. Sexist it may be, but it’s also the way the world works. And under that analysis, having spread before you a pool of intelligent, upwardly mobile, attractive, age-appropriate young men is as good a time as ever for a woman who wants a family to go spouse-fishing.
The debate about when feminists think women should marry got rekerfuffled today when Julia Shaw, who married at 23, said early marriage was a good thing for her. She was grateful that she didn’t let her externally-devised, rigidly-constructed professional timeline prevent her from finding the right partner for her life. Once again, Amanda Marcotte led the opposing charge:
Watching conservatives desperately try to bully women into younger marriage with a couple of promises and a whole lot of threats is highly entertaining but clearly not persuasive. Women marry later because it makes sense given their own career aspirations. . . . I’m glad young marriage is working out for Shaw, but for the majority of women, dating and cohabitating until they’re more sure is working out just fine. If he’s good enough to marry, he’ll still be around when you’re ready to make that leap.
Marcotte is always irritating, even when she has a point. When she doesn’t have a point, as is the case here, she goes well beyond irritating into whatever emotional area lies “well beyond irritating.” For one thing, it’s overwrought for Marcotte to contend that having one say “it worked for me,” amounts to conservative bullying. For another thing, by what possible standard does Marcotte assume that living together, followed by the maybe of marriage, to a man who might just stick around (or may look for greener pastures, where he can get new milk for free) actually works for the majority of women? If she thinks Shaw is being doctrinaire (“marry early”), Marcotte is being just as doctrinaire (“marry late; I’m sure he’ll wait”).
Here’s the bottom line about marriage: finding someone you love, who loves you back, is one of life’s great blessings. I’m not talking about free-floating physical passion, which is an enjoyable, but transient thing. I’m talking about meeting someone where you have that perfect and blessed combination: love, respect, companionship, comfort, and passion, or at least strong physical attraction and affection. Bid that good-bye because of some sort of arbitrary time-table, and you may never be lucky enough to find it again. And no, even good people won’t always wait, because the mere fact that you insist on waiting may signal to them that you don’t view them with the same level of commitment, love, respect, and passion that they have for you.
Here’s another bottom line about marriage: people change. They change in their 20s, their 30s, their 40s, their 50s, and so on and so on. Passing by your soul-mate because you’re young and assume you’ll change and grow away from others is foolish. Change is inevitable. But if you are lucky enough to find someone who respects you as much as s/he loves you, that change can be an enriching, not an alienating, process.
These feminist time-tables are irritating. True love is precious. If you are confident that you have found it and it has found you, take the leap, whether you’re young or old. You may not be as lucky a second time if you throw the gift away just because some opinionated harridans told you that you’re not on the politically-correct timetable.
James Taranto highlights a couple of women, Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell, who complain that it’s unfair that married women, when widowed, get to receive social security benefits that tie into their husband’s social security “earnings.” Here, per Taranto, is the heart of Arnold’s and Campbell’s argument:
“More than 1,000 laws provide overt legal or financial benefits to married couples,” they complain. “Marital privileging marginalizes the 50 percent of Americans who are single. . . . Marital privilege pervades nearly every facet of our lives.” Income-tax liability is generally (though not always) higher for unmarried earners; married workers more or less automatically have access to spouses’ health insurance; couples can share individual retirement accounts, and so forth.
That of course begs the question. Any policy that differentiates among individuals is “discriminatory,” and not all discrimination is unjust or irrational. One of Arnold and Campbell’s examples–Social Security–illustrates the point quite nicely.
If a single person dies without children, her money will–must–go into the system to be provided to whomever [sic] needs it most, which is good because that was the original intent of Social Security. However, if a married person dies, the money can be routed back to her family. This is good for the married person, but fails to account for the important people in singles’ lives.
“Social Security privileges marrieds in many ways,” the duo complain. “For example, [a] married woman could receive up to 50 percent of her husband’s benefits while her husband is alive.” Wait, that sounds like a cost of marriage to the hubby. “Spouses can also receive 100 percent of their dead spouse’s benefits, if the deceased’s benefits are higher than the recipient’s would have been.”
As one would expect, Taranto quickly exposes the logical flaws in their argument, one that flows from a fundamental misunderstanding about social security:
The bottom line is that a married woman is likely to collect considerably more in benefits than a single woman with the same lifetime income. The difference runs into six figures in the hypothetical example Arnold and Campbell devise. That sounds unjust: Why shouldn’t benefits be fully concomitant with the money one paid into the system?
Because that’s not how Social Security actually works. Although it is often misunderstood as an insurance plan, in reality it is a pay-as-you-go welfare program. That is to say that tomorrow’s retirees depend for their benefits not on their own contributions but on tomorrow’s workers. If you retire single and childless, that means you’re living off the labor of other people’s children. Why shouldn’t you get a smaller benefit check than those who accepted the personal and financial burdens of raising those workers?
Taranto is absolutely right about the issue from the social security end, but he could have made a further argument — namely, that Arnold and Campbell are being utterly sexist insofar as they’re denigrating a woman’s very real financial contribution to a marriage.
The old male chauvinist pig argument was that, because women made no income, they actually contributed nothing of value economically, either to the marriage or to society as a whole. The first feminists were quick to point out that this is a fallacy, as the stay-at-home mother’s contributions do, in fact, have a very real valuable. If mom were to vanish suddenly, and there was no female relative to step in to fill the gap, the father would have to hire someone to shop, cook, clean, and, most importantly, raise the children.
Merely feeding children is not enough. In an America with large swathes developed after the automobile came along, and in one dominated by media-fed fears of child-snatching, the caregiver spends an inordinate amount of time ferrying children about, whether to school, to friends (if you want them to be marginally socialized), to mandatory “volunteer” activities, to doctor’s appointments, or to sports and other extracurricular activities. Additionally, when the children are little — and maybe even more when they’re big — they need to be supervised so that they don’t get into mischief. Their associates need to be vetted (druggie or good kid?) and their emotional and intellectual development overseen. Children are hard work. There’s pleasure involved, but, boy!, is there work.
Many women work outside of the home, with their income going to pay for childcare. This works only if the working mother’s income is sufficiently high that, after the household and childcare fees are met, and after the woman pays all her taxes (including Social Security withholding) there’s something left over. Otherwise, she’s just working so that she and her husband can pay someone else to raise the children.
The core fact here is that raising children and running the household is a job. There are two ways to view this when looking at a married couple. Either the man and the woman are a partnership, with each having a different function, but with all profits derived from the enterprise, in the form of the husband’s salary, covering the partnership as a whole. Under this view, as a contributing member of the functioning partnership, the mother is clearly entitled to a share of the Social Security payments, even though her side of the partnership consisted, not of working outside of the home but, instead, of enabling her husband to earn a cash income that’s subject to social security withholding.
A less nice, but still accurate, way of looking at social security payments and stay-at-home moms is that the husband essentially employs the wife. He earns the money, and he gives it to her to provide services such as housekeeping and child-rearing. In her absence, he’d have to pay someone else — in cold, hard, taxed cash. Because she is an employee, her earnings are subject to Social Security withholding, something that the government sees to by taking those withholding from the husband. After all, if it wasn’t for his children, she could be out there earning money.
It’s perfectly true that not all women have children or that there are women with children who cheerfully work outside the home. On the bell curve, though, both of those situations occupy the long-tailed margins. The reality is that married women mostly have children, and that these women mostly provide child and household care, and that, by doing so, these women mostly see their personal income drop, even as they contribute to their husband’s income on behalf of the marital estate. This last fact means that they’ve earned Social Security benefits as certainly as their husband did. And these women certain deserve the payments after their husband’s death because their withdrawal from the labor market to benefit the family means that, once hubby dies (and hubby is statistically likely to die first), they no longer have much, if any, income-earning capacity.
Arnold and Campbell couldn’t be more sexist than when they demean stay-at-home moms by arguing that their contribution to the martial partnership is valueless and that it shouldn’t be compensated in the form of repayment of the money the government forcibly wrested away from the family unit.
Here’s today’s Facebook find:
This poster, of course, comes from a liberal. What the liberal doesn’t realize is that Mitt was riffing right off the liberals’ own beloved New York Times when he said that the best way to deal with gun violence is to promote marriage. Just this July, the Times ran an article acknowledging what conservatives have known intuitively, which is that two-parent families are much less likely to live in poverty than one-parent families:
The economic storms of recent years have raised concerns about growing inequality and questions about a core national faith, that even Americans of humble backgrounds have a good chance of getting ahead. Most of the discussion has focused on labor market forces like falling blue-collar wages and lavish Wall Street pay.
But striking changes in family structure have also broadened income gaps and posed new barriers to upward mobility. College-educated Americans like the Faulkners are increasingly likely to marry one another, compounding their growing advantages in pay. Less-educated women like Ms. Schairer, who left college without finishing her degree, are growing less likely to marry at all, raising children on pinched paychecks that come in ones, not twos.
Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality. Long a nation of economic extremes, the United States is also becoming a society of family haves and family have-nots, with marriage and its rewards evermore confined to the fortunate classes.
The next analytical step is to recognize that there is a strong correlation between poverty and crime. Even Barack Obama acknowledged this in an ugly, back assward way when he said that “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but rich people are all for nonviolence. Why wouldn’t they be? They’ve got what they want. They want to make sure people don’t take their stuff.” The corollary to Obama’s class warfare statement is that rich people don’t take other people’s stuff either — they buy it.
So a root cause of crime is poverty and, as the New York Times admits, a root cause of poverty is single mother parenting. That means that Mitt didn’t say something stupid; he said something smart. Only people in deep, deep denial would deny the wisdom of his statement that we deal with violence, not by getting rid of the Second Amendment, which is our bulwark against government tyranny, but by reaffirming traditional middle class values.
While I’m on the topic of marriage, poverty, and crime, I’ll just throw one more thing into the mix: Daddies. Studies show that Daddies matter when it comes to boys and crime (and boys commit vastly greater numbers of crimes than girls do). Interestingly, it’s not clear that this Daddy statistic applies as well to two Daddy families. Still, two Daddy (and two Mommy) families are still going to be economically more stable than a single parent family, and the single parent trap is what I believe Mitt was addressing.
Facebook is just a wellspring of clever misinformation aimed at credulous, emotionally charged liberals.
Today’s young people don’t date. They hang out. A relationship is lasting if the couple is still together after a week or two. Hook-ups (i.e., casual sex) are normative.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing for long-term relationships? Do people know each other better than they did before or less well? And where does the wedding fit in when it comes to these New Age lead-ins to marriage?
Good questions all and the Anchoress points to some answers. As for me, I’ll say only that I think that it’s impossible to have a happy marriage unless it is premised upon mutual respect. I further believe that, while traditional dating doesn’t guarantee mutual respect, a hook-up, hang-out culture makes that respect even less likely.
I happen to think Dennis Prager is right — and I say this as someone who does not have a personal stake in the adultery issue. I’ve known people who committed adultery because they were obnoxious jerks, and people who committed adultery because it was the only way to survive emotionally in a terrible marriage that nevertheless needed to continue as a marriage.
I’m curious as to what you think.
As part of a larger rumination about religion, Barney Quick looked at the Christian notion of a woman’s submission within her marriage, since the media is going after Michele Bachmann on that point:
The recent dust-up over Michelle Bachmann’s statements on record that she feels Biblically commanded to be submissive in her marriage is another example of the kind of thing that hangs me up. She’s not alone. There is even a network of blogs maintained by women who are proud to be submissive.
I know, I know. The Christian view of marriage is that the man and woman become one, and the the man loves his wife like Christ loves the church, and therefore there is mutual respect, but ultimately there is no doubt that what is being asserted is that the man is the captain, the leader, the one in the family who makes the decisions to which the wife and children will defer. I like Michelle Bachmann a lot; she’s one of my top three or four Pub presidential candidates. But let’s be candid; she’s been dancing around the theological point since it resurfaced last week.
I’ve been thinking about the subject a lot myself, for years actually. Twenty-five years to be precise. Twenty-five years ago, in a single weekend, I went to two weddings. The first wedding was a yuppie New Age ceremony with a mail-order minister who waffled on about universal harmonies, shakras, karma, the joining of souls, etc. I found the ceremony peculiarly un-compelling. I couldn’t figure out if the bride and groom had committed to each other for life, or were taking some sort of oath before embarking on a spaceship for galaxies unknown.
The next day, I went to the wedding of two people who belonged to a small, deeply fundamentalist church. It was my first exposure to an evangelical wedding, which meant it was also the first time I’d heard a minister give voice to the notion that, just as Christ is the head of the Church, so too is the man the head of the married couple. The minister said that, for the man, this position carries with it tremendous responsibility to love, honor, protect and respect the wife, but that the man still has the dominant position. I was shocked to the core of my feminist soul . . . yet, even then, I had this sense that I had attended a real wedding, with the bride and groom committing themselves to each other and to God. I also had a sense of order.
Fast forward to today. I have a friend who has what is, without question, the most successful marriage I’ve ever seen. He would say that it’s because he’s married to the most wonderful woman in the world which is, of course, true. But she would say (I’m pretty sure), that it’s because she is married to the most wonderful man in the world, which also happens to be true. These two like and respect each other at a level that I’ve only seen a few other times. But here’s the kicker: on the rare occasions when they have disputes that reach an impasse, he casts the deciding vote. Because he loves, likes and respects her so much, he never casts a vote that is intended to hurt or demean her. Nevertheless, he is the tie-breaker.
Frankly, this strikes me as a good thing. When he finally makes a decision, she hasn’t lost, nor as he won. He’s simply exercised his position within the relationship to resolve stalemates. If you don’t have someone in the marriage who occupies that role, you end up with each dispute becoming a fight to the death. Neither party can afford to give ground, lest they be seen as taking a subordinate place in the relationship. Rather than tie-breakers, there are only winners (smug) and losers (demoralized).
If the Christian model is how Michele Bachmann’s marriage functions, fine. In every marriage there are disputes, and every married couple has to figure out how to resolve those disputes. It could be through a bloody emotional battle to the death (yeah, I know: crazy metaphors), or it could be by designating one partner as the tie breaker. Presidents always have their spouses at their side (or at their backs), and the spouse will always be part of the equation, regardless of the method they use for resolving their own disputes.
What do you think?
UPDATE: Obama recently offered an insight into his own marriage, which James Taranto examined in the second entry in his BOTW column. One gets the feeling that Michelle scares him, just a little bit.
A long, long time ago, NPR did a series of stories aimed at “documenting” the state of marriage in America. One of those stories stood out strongly in my mind, because the woman the reporter interviewed articulated a view of marriage that I’d never considered before. She said that, in America, secular people view marriage as a “contract.” Each party has obligations to the other, and if one party breaches his (or her) obligations, then the other party is automatically released from the contract. Her view, a religious view, was different. To her mind, marriage was a covenant. Under that approach she said, one spouse’s obligations continue regardless of whether the other spouse abides by her (or his) promises.
I’ve often thought about her words when I look at the divorces in the community around me. None happened lightly. All happened because one or another partner to the marriage truly broke his (or her) marriage vows, usually with adultery. All were unhappy marriages to begin with. And because I live in a child-centric world, all of the divorces involved children. In each case, the true anguish for my friends wasn’t the divorce itself, it was the child’s (or children’s) well-being. Would the child be better off shuttling back and forth between two single-parent happy homes (because the presumed that divorce would make the parents happier), or would the child be better off in a two-parent home that was a battlefield of parental pain? Most opted for divorce, feeling that their marital pain was so overwhelming that they were rendered incapable of being good parents.
Because I respect my friends, and because I know their abiding love for the children, I would not presume to second guess their decisions. None were made lightly; all provided much food for thought.
I was reminded of the dramas that have played out around me over the years when I read David French’s Social Justice Begins at Home, which decries the ease with which practicing Christians have accepted the culture of no-fault divorce. He notes that, traditionally, the church has severely limited divorce, but that, even as this doctrine exists in theory, it is vanishing in practice.
In a way, it seems to me that what French is saying that, even amongst Christians, marriage has slipped from being a covenant to being a contract. However, that social/religious shift has blinded people to the fact that our relationship to our children is not a contract, it is a covenant. We owe our obligations to them regardless. They didn’t ask to be born. They’re vulnerable, they’re dependent, and they are tied to us emotionally in ways that transcend any normal consensual relationship.
Some marriages are so disastrous that the children’s welfare demands a divorce. (I know one of those situations, which involves an increasingly abusive father, and a mother who is unable to protect her children from his escalating verbal and, sometimes, physical abuse.) Most unhappy marriages, though, involve parents who manage to put on a good front for the children. Sure, mom and dad fight, but that’s normal even in all but the most perfect marriages. Mostly, though, the parents experience private pain, while continuing to create a stable, financially secure home for their children. These are the marriages in which, even if the contract between the parents is breached, the covenant to the children continues.
I think French and I are on the same page, whether one views it from a Christian perspective or from a non-observant Jewish perspective, which is that the children’s needs are transcendent. If the parents are able to shelve their pain and their discord, it is their obligation to the children that must determine whether the marriage continues. The mere fact that life would be easier for the parents if they weren’t burdened with their respective spouse cannot serve as a justification for breaking apart the home, thereby destroying both the child’s emotional and economic security.
Steve Crowder who is not, so far as I know, married, used the GLSEN scandal as the starting point for some really sweet thoughts about marriage:
When I really think about it, it seems as though the only kind of sex at which Hollywood will ever choose to poke fun… is the kind that occurs within marriage.
Don’t you watch the movies? Haven’t you listened to the stand-up comedians? The day you tie the knot is “the day your sex life ends.” According to sitcoms and romantic comedies, it’s a scientific impossibility for married couples to enjoy playful romps in the bedroom.
Correct me for being naïve, but isn’t married sex supposed to be the best sex of your life? Shouldn’t your life-partner provide you with the most sexually gratifying experiences you’ll ever have the pleasure of knowing? Afterall, your wife or husband is supposed to be the person you love more than anyone on the planet. Given that mutual appreciation and (hopefully) an unparalleled level of communication, how could the sex NOT be amazing? What is marriage, if not an institution designed to cultivate bonding/closeness on every level, including physically?
I think that, when Crowder does get married, his wife will be a very lucky woman.
Contentions blog has a short post about the Jewish vote for Obama. I wrote a comment to that post, and share it with you here:
American Jews aren’t really Jewish anymore. With regard to Prop. 8′s success in California (preserving male/female marriage), I told a disappointed Jewish acquaintance, who was blaming “fanatic” Christians, that most religions had male/female marriage as a fundamental tenet of the religion. “Not my religion,” he said. Who knew that Moses came down from the Mountain with a commandment mandating gay marriage?
In the same vein, another liberal Jew of my acquaintance, when I expressed concern that gay marriage could be used as a wedge for polygamy, assured me that this was no problem because “we always had polygamy until it became illegal.” He was taken aback when I pointed out that the last legal polygamy in Judeo-Christian culture was at the time of the Biblical Patriarchs.
As I said, whatever American Jews are, they’re not really Jewish.
Do you think it’s coincidence that the Sunday before Prop. 8 formally goes before California voters, the SF Chron runs an article about a lesbian couple’s wedding that would be perfectly suitable for a saccharine Barbara Cartland romance? I probably wouldn’t have noticed or cared about this little subliminal push for its readers to vote with the liberal agenda if I hadn’t read this on the same day I learned that the Chron suppressed information about Obama’s boast that he was going to bankrupt the American coal industry.
I’m glad those two women found happiness together, and I have no problem with giving them civil recognition as a couple, with all the legal benefits and burdens that entails. However, let’s just not pretend that this civil recognition is marriage, a pretense that will have two horrible side effects: (a) it will insert the government into religion, which is precisely what the Founders most feared and (b) it is a slippery slope that inevitably (no brakes) opens the door for Muslim polygamy, not to mention some less savory practices such as polyandry and bestiality (or, if you’re in Japan, marriage to cartoon characters).
UPDATE: Thanks to Rockdalian for bringing to my attention the story that the Chronicle isn’t telling in the days leading up to a vote on Prop. 8: namely, the fact that the California school system is sitting on its hands in the face of a teacher who gave kindergartners a form to fill out supporting Gay and Lesbian rights.
I’ll be interested to read the decision when I get the chance.
As for me, let me reiterate my usual point. I am not categorically opposed to gay marriage. However, I think we’re rushing too fast to change human relationships that have been fixed across all human cultures for thousands of years: marriage is between a man and a woman. Even polygamy doesn’t mess with that basic (and biological) principle. I prefer more thought before getting pushed politically into such changes.
UPDATE: I just wanted to say, friends, that you are a remarkable group of people. In a series of 56 comments, despite differences of opinion, all of you have consistently been intelligent, respectful, thoughtful and open-minded. Thank you so much.
I don’t know anything about Evergreen State College, except that I’d certainly steer clear of one history professor there — and if she’s representative of the rest of the faculty, I’d avoid the school entirely. But let me back up.
In today’s NY Times, one of the top most emailed articles is an op-ed by guest contributor “Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history at Evergreen State College.” Coontz is not a nobody in academic circles. Judging by her website, she has spent her long academic career focusing on women and marriage, and has published many books on the subject. She looks like a nice lady. All of which makes more incomprehensible the fundamental thinking errors underlying her op-ed piece.
Her article’s premise is spelled out in its title: “Taking Marriage Private.” That is, she suggests that marriage cease to be something affiliated with the state and become a purely private matter — sort of like living together, except with some sort of preliminary party. To support her premise, she embarks on a laundry list of historic moments in marriage, which reads like one of the time charts on a library wall — all facts, no substance or understanding. The end of the article is, of course, the conclusion that the state should allow gay marriage.
But here I am, being conclusory myself. Let me explain what I mean about the intellectual flaws in Coontz’s chronology. I think the easiest way to do that is fisk her essay. I’ll apologize in advance for the fact that fisking her essay destroys the chronological coherence of my argument, since I’m responding to her sometimes random, vague, or misleading points in the order in which she makes them.
WHY do people — gay or straight — need the state’s permission to marry? For most of Western history, they didn’t, because marriage was a private contract between two families. The parents’ agreement to the match, not the approval of church or state, was what confirmed its validity.
For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married. [This argument may be technically correct, but it still misses by a mile the core issue, which is that marriage is a sacrament in the Catholic faith. Catholic marriage is not simply a formulaic procedural event. Instead, as one Catholic website explains, "Sacraments are outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification (Catechismus concil. Trident., n.4, ex S. Aug. 'De Catechizandis rudibus)." In other words, sacraments lie at the heart of the Catholic faith. People who professed themselves married, even if they did so on their own, were still presumably embracing the sacrament of marriage, which obligated the church to recognize their self-imposed status. And to the extent it was a sacrament, people were not going to mess around lightly with the concept.]
In 1215, the church decreed that a “licit” marriage must take place in church. But people who married illictly had the same rights and obligations as a couple married in church: their children were legitimate; the wife had the same inheritance rights; the couple was subject to the same prohibitions against divorce. [See my discussion above.]
Not until the 16th century did European states begin to require that marriages be performed under legal auspices. In part, this was an attempt to prevent unions between young adults whose parents opposed their match. [True, but Coontz is being disingenuous in this paragraph by coyly handing out minimal facts. What she fails to mention was that, in the 16th Century, the Catholic Church, which hitherto had been practically indistinguishable from the governance of Europe, was suddenly being challenged by Protestantism. In England, for example, Henry VIII broke with the Pope and started the Church of England, with himself as the head. Nevertheless, he was a traditionalist and continued to be believe in marriage as a sacrament. To the extent he merged marriage and state, marriage had to be taken out of the Catholic church and put into the state to satisfy his religious requirements. The same was happening throughout Europe. As the Church faltered, the state took over, either because it was replacing the Church, as in England, or because it was trying to reinforce Church hegemony, as in France or Italy.]
The American colonies officially required marriages to be registered, but until the mid-19th century, state supreme courts routinely ruled that public cohabitation was sufficient evidence of a valid marriage. By the later part of that century, however, the United States began to nullify common-law marriages and exert more control over who was allowed to marry. [Again, true, but there are a few problems. First, Coontz makes it sound as if merely living together was sufficient to create a recognized marriage. The opposite was true. Common law marriages were hard to prove at law: the relationship had to be one of long duration, and both parties to the relationship had to hold themselves out to others as husband and wife. In an increasingly bureaucratized age, and in an era of greater social dislocation and alienation, however, these public representations became harder to validate, and the states needed a recognizable procedure for clarifying relationships. The potent amalgam of a mobile population, children, and the full faith and credit clause requiring State A to recognize a marriage in State B, meant that it made sense to standardize the situation.]
By the 1920s, 38 states prohibited whites from marrying blacks, “mulattos,” Japanese, Chinese, Indians, “Mongolians,” “Malays” or Filipinos. Twelve states would not issue a marriage license if one partner was a drunk, an addict or a “mental defect.” Eighteen states set barriers to remarriage after divorce. [I'm not sure what Coontz's point is here. That some states had bad marriage laws has nothing to do with the fact that states had valid reasons for passing basic marriage laws in the first instance.]
In the mid-20th century, governments began to get out of the business of deciding which couples were “fit” to marry. Courts invalidated laws against interracial marriage, struck down other barriers and even extended marriage rights to prisoners. [Ditto.]
But governments began relying on marriage licenses for a new purpose: as a way of distributing resources to dependents. The Social Security Act provided survivors’ benefits with proof of marriage. Employers used marital status to determine whether they would provide health insurance or pension benefits to employees’ dependents. Courts and hospitals required a marriage license before granting couples the privilege of inheriting from each other or receiving medical information. [Again, Coontz is being disingenuous by slipping in here for the very first time in her lengthy disquisition the core historical (and, perhaps, modern) point of marriage: children. Indeed, she doesn't even make this point explicitly, instead euphemizing it as "a way of distributing resources to dependents," and then trying to disguise the point with babble about Social Security benefits and hospital visits. At all times, in all cultures, the focus behind marriage is children and inheritance. When the Church controls a society, the Church sets the terms for marriage. When the state controls society, the state sets the terms. But it's always about establishing patrimony, ensuring child care, and distributing wealth. To imply that this factor is a sudden mid-20th century phenomenon is misleading.]
In the 1950s, using the marriage license as a shorthand way to distribute benefits and legal privileges made some sense because almost all adults were married. Cohabitation and single parenthood by choice were very rare.
Today, however, possession of a marriage license tells us little about people’s interpersonal responsibilities. Half of all Americans aged 25 to 29 are unmarried, and many of them already have incurred obligations as partners, parents or both. Almost 40 percent of America’s children are born to unmarried parents. Meanwhile, many legally married people are in remarriages where their obligations are spread among several households. [This is not an argument. It's a glossy statement that hides the fact that the 40 percent of America's children that are born to unmarried parents also constitute the greatest number of American children living in poverty. And the fact that people have identities outside of marriage has nothing to do with the societal benefits that arise from marriage (although I assume she's trying to say that, in the 1950s, when "almost all adults were married," all you needed was a marriage license to become a recipient of distributed state benefits. That's untrue, of course.)]
Using the existence of a marriage license to determine when the state should protect interpersonal relationships is increasingly impractical. Society has already recognized this when it comes to children, who can no longer be denied inheritance rights, parental support or legal standing because their parents are not married. [Whoa, Nellie! Did she just say that children cannot be denied inheritance rights? That's certainly true in places such as Italy and Brazil, but last I heard, parents could still cut ungrateful American brats out of their wills. In fact, I know of one particularly mean-spirted parent who successfully cut her lovely child out of her will. I will provide for my children as part of my testamentary planning because I love them, not because the state forces me to. And even in the old days, when remarriage was common because of one spouse's death, the break-up of a marriage didn't necessarily deny the children of a previous marriage any testamentary rights. It just depended on the way in which the estate was originally devised, a fact all Jane Austen readers understand.]
As Nancy Polikoff, an American University law professor, argues, the marriage license no longer draws reasonable dividing lines regarding which adult obligations and rights merit state protection. A woman married to a man for just nine months gets Social Security survivor’s benefits when he dies. But a woman living for 19 years with a man to whom she isn’t married is left without government support, even if her presence helped him hold down a full-time job and pay Social Security taxes. [Well, then, maybe they should have gotten married so as to take advantage of the government benefits. Polikoff and Coontz both get the argument bass ackwards here. They say because the law is unfair to people who make different choices, the law is wrong. It never occurs to them that the law is intended to increase societal stability, especially for children, and that maybe the choices are wrong.] A newly married wife or husband can take leave from work to care for a spouse, or sue for a partner’s wrongful death. But unmarried couples typically cannot, no matter how long they have pooled their resources and how faithfully they have kept their commitments. [Ditto.]
Possession of a marriage license is no longer the chief determinant of which obligations a couple must keep, either to their children or to each other. But it still determines which obligations a couple can keep — who gets hospital visitation rights, family leave, health care and survivor’s benefits. This may serve the purpose of some moralists. But it doesn’t serve the public interest of helping individuals meet their care-giving commitments. [Ditto.]
Perhaps it’s time to revert to a much older marital tradition. Let churches decide which marriages they deem “licit.” But let couples — gay or straight — decide if they want the legal protections and obligations of a committed relationship. [Or perhaps it's time for society to remember what marriage is about and, instead of shaping the law to choices that although beneficial to individuals are deleterious to society, Society should remind individuals that marriage is good for children and stabilizes society, that these laws serve a valid purpose and that those who, knowing the law, still elect to co-habitate, have made their choices and must take their chances.]
As for me, I’m conflicted about co-habitation before marriage. I did it because, in my heyday, everyone did it. I was very pragmatic about it, seeing it as a way to save on rent and as a practice for marriage. As to the latter, it wasn’t, of course, a point best made by a friend of mine who also lived with her husband before marrying him. She said that everyone asked her, “if you’re already living together, why get married?” She replied that this question showed a complete misunderstand of marriage.
“When John and I were living together, we always knew that we could just walk away if it didn’t work out. We were roommates with sex. However, when we got married, we stood before man and God and made a commitment to each other. Our vows were a covenant to the marriage. It’s not a contract. It’s not that, if one person ‘breaches’ the contract, the other person can walk out. A covenant binds you regardless of the other person. Since we’re married, John and I are much more careful of each other’s feelings because we are bound together.”
My friend was absolutely right. And she spoke that way before having children. As those of us with children know, that binding tightens when there are children involved. Even though children can put great stress on a marriage, their needs — physical, emotional and economic — are best met by a stable marriage.
When marriage is a miserably unhappy experience, even if there are children involved, it’s probably a mistake to try to hold the marriage together. However, if the marriage is tolerable, that combination of public commitment, religious covenant, and obligation to the children should keep a couple together, since their togetherness benefits their children and society as a whole.
UPDATE: Myriad typos corrected, although I’m sure you can still find many more.
One of the constant themes from the Left is that a traditional home, with a biological mother and father (or a home with a married mother and father who have committed to adopting children) is no better than a single mother home, or a two father home, or a two mother home. With respect to that first — the single mother home — they could not be more wrong, as even an AP article admits:
Six-year-old Oscar Jimenez Jr. was beaten to death in California, then buried under fertilizer and cement. Two-year-old Devon Shackleford was drowned in an Arizona swimming pool. Jayden Cangro, also 2, died after being thrown across a room in Utah.
In each case, as in many others every year, the alleged or convicted perpetrator had been the boyfriend of the child’s mother — men thrust into father-like roles which they tragically failed to embrace.
Every case is different, every family is different. Some single mothers bring men into their lives who lovingly help raise children when the biological father is gone for good.
Nonetheless, many scholars and front-line caseworkers interviewed by The Associated Press see the abusive-boyfriend syndrome as part of a broader trend that deeply worries them. They note an ever-increasing share of America’s children grow up in homes without both biological parents, and say the risk of child abuse is markedly higher in the nontraditional family structures.
“This is the dark underbelly of cohabitation,” said Brad Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia. “Cohabitation has become quite common, and most people think, ‘What’s the harm?’ The harm is we’re increasing a pattern of relationships that’s not good for children.”
The existing data on child abuse in America is patchwork, making it difficult to track national trends with precision. The most recent federal survey on child maltreatment tallies nearly 900,000 abuse incidents reported to state agencies in 2005, but it does not delve into how rates of abuse correlate with parents’ marital status or the makeup of a child’s household.
There’s a lot more in the article which, even though it admits that some statistics are hard to come by, nevertheless says that existing statistics show a very disturbing trend for children trapped in single Mom homes, with revolving door boyfriends.
I’m actually quite surprised that this went through the AP filters, because it’s a tacit admission that the conservative agenda, which promotes stable traditional marriages, is actually better than the alternatives. I’m not saying, of course, that we should make it illegal for women to raise children alone or that women alone should be denied boyfriends, or anything silly like that. I am saying, though, that one of the ways in which America can improve child welfare without more taxes and endless government programs is simply to promote traditional marriage.
Right now, between the devaluation of traditional marriage because of the pressure for gay marriage, the PC claim that single women don’t need a man (which is both a sop to feminists and to African-American women who have traditionally found themselves parenting solo, for myriad reasons), and the pop culture that turns its back on the old rhythm of “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage), the social and emotional validity of marriage as a prelude to children is at a low ebb — and children need us to reverse that trend.
Back in December 2004, I wrote a post over at my old blog site about how difficult life is in the 21st Century for June Cleaver. Since Blogger posts, after a certain period of time, lose all formatting, I’ll reprint it here, in an easy to read format:
I’ve been looking around at friends’ marriages, and wondering what makes some happy and some unhappy. And I keep thinking of Ward and June Cleaver, who have always typified for me the classic American division of male/female roles in a “married with children” relationship. She maintains the house; he pays the bills. They are polite to each other. She is the first line of defense for matters involving the children, but he is the final word, and all defer to him.
One could argue that, at least from the woman’s point of view, it’s a dreadful division, since she works hard, but he holds ultimate power. What’s weird, though, is that the couples I know who have returned to a Ward and June life-style have very happy marriages. Each knows his or her area of responsibility within the relationship, and that seems to take away from, rather than to add to, stress.
The other happy couples I know are those where they’ve truly mixed-and-matched the Ward and June roles. That is, both work, but both share equally in household management. Each seems to respect the other and there is a health give-and-take for responsibility. I know only two couples who have achieved this, so it seems to be a real rarity, at least in my circles.
The most angry marriages are those where the man clings to the Ward role, but expects his wife to be both June (household manager) and Ward (breadwinner). These are the households where the woman holds a full- or part-time job, and is also the primary caregiver for the children (when they’re not in school), as well as the chief shopper, cook, laundress, and house cleaner. Sadly, this is also the dominant model in my community, and I think it goes a long way to explaining the very resentful women I know.
The problem I’m observing is nothing new. Fifteen years ago, Arlie Hochschild wrote a book called The Second Shift, which examined relationships in which both man and woman work. I haven’t read the book since its publication, but my memory is that the women who carried the heaviest load were the yuppie wives whose husbands paid lip-service to an “equal” relationship in the marriage — a dynamic that precisely describes the married couples in my world.
What Hochschild discovered is that those husbands — even while claiming that, just as their wives added the Ward role to their June role, they too added the June role to their Ward role — were creating an elaborate fiction themselves. Their “equal” role in the house amounted to toting out the garbage once a week, or picking up the occasional milk. Those who laid claim to all responsibilities outside the house’s walls (that is, yard work), essentially mowed the lawn weekly. Meanwhile, their wives, who also held paying jobs, were handling shopping, cooking, cleaning, childcare, and all other miscellaneous stuff.
Ironically, those husbands who were most likely to provide real help around the house were the old-fashioned men who bitterly resented the economic necessity that forced their wives into the workplace. It was they who placed the most value on their wives’ work, and were therefore most likely to recognize the women’s sacrifice in leaving the home for the workplace. “Modern men,” with their views of equality, seemed to see traditional women’s work as valueless and were unwilling to sully their hands with it.
It’s interesting that, 15 years after I read that book as an unencumbered single, I look around my world and see that the book could just as easily have been written today, ’cause nothing’s changed. Apparently Ward and June were on to something….
It turns out Arlie Hochschild’s 18 year old conclusions and my three year old observations are still right on the money. More and more research is showing that, while men still enjoy a Ward Cleaver level of “life is good” satisfaction, augmented by more gadgets and better health than Ward could ever imagine, women are increasingly unhappy because of the burdens their Ward and June expectations impose on them:
Two new research papers, using very different methods, have both come to this conclusion. Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, economists at the University of Pennsylvania (and a couple), have looked at the traditional happiness data, in which people are simply asked how satisfied they are with their overall lives. In the early 1970s, women reported being slightly happier than men. Today, the two have switched places.
Mr. Krueger, analyzing time-use studies over the last four decades, has found an even starker pattern. Since the 1960s, men have gradually cut back on activities they find unpleasant. They now work less and relax more.
Over the same span, women have replaced housework with paid work — and, as a result, are spending almost as much time doing things they don’t enjoy as in the past. Forty years ago, a typical woman spent about 23 hours a week in an activity considered unpleasant, or 40 more minutes than a typical man. Today, with men working less, the gap is 90 minutes.
These trends are reminiscent of the idea of “the second shift,” the name of a 1989 book by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild, arguing that modern women effectively had to hold down two jobs. The first shift was at the office, and the second at home.
But researchers who have looked at time-use data say the second-shift theory misses an important detail. Women are not actually working more than they were 30 or 40 years ago. They are instead doing different kinds of work. They’re spending more time on paid work and less on cleaning and cooking.
What has changed — and what seems to be the most likely explanation for the happiness trends — is that women now have a much longer to-do list than they once did (including helping their aging parents). They can’t possibly get it all done, and many end up feeling as if they are somehow falling short.
Mr. Krueger’s data, for instance, shows that the average time devoted to dusting has fallen significantly in recent decades. There haven’t been any dust-related technological breakthroughs, so houses are probably just dirtier than they used to be. I imagine that the new American dustiness affects women’s happiness more than men’s.
For women, it seems to be damned if you don’t have the choices and damned if you do. Either way, the to-do list is too long, and the rewards for effort are too small.
I’m on another vacation, sitting in a cyber cafe, working at a small computer with a microscopic keyboard, so it must be random thoughts day. Thank goodness DQ is doing the heavy lifting.
The first thing that caught my interest is what Mitt said at the debate, which I really liked:
But it was Romney forced on the defensive on the issue of abortion, when Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback defended automated phone calls his campaign had been making that highlight his rival’s one-time support for pro-choice policies.
“It’s truthful,” Brownback said.
Romney called it “desperate, maybe negative,” adding moments later, “I get tired of people that are holier than thou because they’ve been pro-life longer than I have.” (Emphasis mine.)
The fact is that many people who came of age in the 1960s have taken a long slow journey from one side to the other. As my own change in political convictions shows, the fact that I came late to the game doesn’t mean I’m not one of the biggest fans. In any event, as I keep reminding and reminding people, the best we can hope for is a chief executive who appoints strict constructionist judges, since it is they, not the President, who will change abortion policies.
Indeed, I’m reminded again and again that, probably, the most important thing the new President can do is change the Supreme Court — and we must really hope that the new President is a conservative. I think I’ve hammered hope the point that, if you haven’t already read Melanie Phillips’ Londonistan, you must. It points the finger of blame at activist judges who decided that the laws and traditions of their own country were irrelevant, because they were connected to a higher authority of human rights law, courtesy of the EU and the UN. (As you may recall, some of our more liberal and aged Supreme Court justices have been making tentative moves in the same direction.)
I’m now reading Bruce Bawer’s While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within, which describes in chilling detail what is happening, day-to-day, on the streets of Europe as a result of the multi-cultural, socialist, non-democratically judge ruled European nations that allowed unlimited Muslim immigration, with full funding no matter the fraud, and has proven unwilling because of its doctrinal blinders to deal with the inevitable Islamist nihilism, violence and brutality. Bawer is a liberal gay man who is mad, frightened, and finally aware the America is the last, best hope for Western freedom and democracy.
Continuing randomly, Confederate Yankee continues to eviscerate the once reputable TNR over the Scott Thomas propaganda piece. It now turns out that when TNR did it’s little “we were sort of wrong” mea culpa, it left out a few pertinent facts. Whoops!
TNR’s not the only one covering up information to score political or ideological points (or just to cover up journalistic malfeasance). Turns out that, again, the Times is guilty of allowing the publication of an article attacking Orthodox Jews that used as its starting point a known false anecdote. Starting with Walter Duranty, journalistic integrity at the Times seemed to have morphed into, if we beieve the underlying ideology, we are acting with integrity when we lie about those facts to support our ideological beliefs. Incidentally, that’s psychologically similar to the European Muslims who have no problems breaking European laws because, as far as they’re concerned, such laws don’t exist.
Incidentally, since I’m in Times bashing mode (it’s editorial policies make it an easy target), let me just direct you to an American Thinker article exposing its decision to publish a piece by known Israel basher — and Canadian — Michael Ignatieff as he explains why he can’t support the war in Iraq. Surprise, surprise! It’s all about the “Jooos.” As Babu said to Jerry, finger rhythmically wagging, “You are a very bad man.”
And the last random thought, a surprising report today that more women are living with the fathers of their children! We used to call that marriage, but they don’t because they aren’t (married, that is). I suppose this should be heartening, but I find it depressing, at least from the child’s point of view. Marriage says (even though it may not mean) “we’re committed for the long haul.” Living together says (even though it may not mean) “I can walk out at any time.” I think the former is better for children’s sense of stability, rather than the latter.