Marriage a la Mode

Bill Murchison

4/2/2013 12:01:00 AM - Bill Murchison
The American public's apparent surrender to same-sex marriage -- the Pew Research Center says 49 percent of us now support it, with just 44 percent opposed -- has been much remarked lately. I think I can explain it in part.

The problem is with the failure of the culture to take marriage itself with the seriousness it used to receive. Connected more with pleasure than with responsibility, marriage functions more and more as just as a set of personal preferences. If it feels good, tastes good, looks good, etc., -- hey, why not? If none of the above, never mind. Each to his own. It 's one big case of the modern moral disorder, the one known as ... "whatever."

Time was, and it wasn't long ago, when marriage, as developed and refined by belief and practice over many centuries, was the norm for human beings. Admission to the institution was generally a sacred rite, protected, furthermore, by the laws of the state. Once entered upon, marriage tended to last, which isn't to say that the initial rapture of the partners grew or just endured. Not infrequently, such is the nature of humans, did it wither. The importance of the institution was nevertheless a rule of thumb. A very big deal was marriage: It still is, in the eyes of many -- just not so many as was the case up until half a century ago.

What changed? Charles Murray ("Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010") remarks that sexual revolution became inevitable once oral contraception came on the market. "Of course, sexual mores would be profoundly changed when, for the first time in human history, women had a convenient and reliable way to ensure that they could have sex without getting pregnant, even on the spur of the moment and with no cooperation from the man." Marriage's ancient purpose in the projection of new life lost resonance. The Supreme Court's whole-cloth creation of a right to abortion further degraded the instinct to bring forth and nurture children. The little brats -- who needed 'em?

Not the culture of self-esteem and self-indulgence that took over America in the '60s, '70s and '80s, intent on establishing a right to self-expression and personal fulfillment, never mind whole libraries of ancient wisdom and admonition.

Divorce -- practically non-existent in the '50s (I grew up without ever knowing a divorced person) -- turned into a key entitlement of modern life. No-fault divorce laws extended the right to write "Cancelled" on relationships gone sour. And never mind what solemn pledges had initiated those relationships. Why, darling, no one can tell how things will work out! More and more Americans entered upon marriage with fingers mentally crossed. Maybe yes, maybe no, we'll see -- an attitude not strictly conducive to the cultivation of character. When quitting becomes second nature instead of a public shame, guess what those does for perception of the virtue that underlies hard work and determination?

As for children! Loving parents (to their vast personal credit) dwell among us in vast numbers. They just don't have the cultural encouragement they used to. The culture has switched sides since the '60s and '70s, when the counter-culture beat the old authority figures to a frazzle.

Marriage? Modern culture yawns, open-mouthed, at the old-time ideals. Why shouldn't everyone be married who wants to be -- or, for that matter, not? The rooted considerations that commend the marriage of one man and one woman -- stability, complementarity, the satisfactions and pleasures of birth and child-rearing -- lack the hearty affirmation our culture used to bestow on them.

Same-sex marriage? Male-female marriage? Same as hamburger versus fried chicken -- if you're listening attentively to the culture. Take your pick. Which piece of advice provides no cover at all for the push to crush the old marriage norms and set up new ones, lacking sexual boundaries. You can see what goes on when we turn the honorable estate of matrimony into one more have-it-your-way custom. The sight more than discourages. It lacerates.