As many of you may know, the institution of marriage is currently experiencing some dramatic changes. Simply, fewer couples are choosing to marry. A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, in association with Time Magazine, looks to find some answers to this mysterious revolution.
I will try not to bombard you with too many statistics, but it is necessary to highlight a few that are especially eye opening. For example, the Pew study reveals that, “in 1960, two-thirds (68%) of twenty-somethings were married. In 2008, just 26% were” (“Who Needs Marriage?”). Nearly 7 out of 10 people in their twenties were married fifty years ago. Today, only one in four are. This is a huge change in a short amount of time. One of the reasons for this change is the growing number of women receiving college degrees and ultimately becoming successful professionals. These women are choosing to wait to get married until they are well established on their own; or, they are not getting married at all. When women become primary or equal breadwinners, they do not need men to provide for them. Thus, women are more independent, and they now initiate two-thirds of divorces (“Who Needs Marriage?”).
Another interesting aspect within the “death of marriage” is the growing financial gap between married couples and single adults. The Pew study found that, “In 1960 the median household income of married adults was 12% higher than that of single adults, after adjusting for household size. By 2008 this gap had grown to 41%” (“Who Needs Marriage?”). So, the richer we become, the more likely we are to get married. In other words, marriage provides a financial privilege unavailable to single adults, or those who cannot legally get married.
Finally, more and more couples are choosing to cohabitate. Living together without being married is growing in acceptance and popularity (“Who Needs Marriage?”). Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, arguably the most famous celebrity couple, live together and have six children. They have stated publicly that they will not get married until everyone has the legal opportunity to do so (read Brad Pitt’s comments on Ellen’s show HERE). Americans spend lots of time obsessing over popular culture, and couples like Brad and Angelina hold quite a bit of power in challenging the institution of marriage. Not getting married is practically “the cool new thing” to do.
This study is really fascinating, and I just wanted to briefly provide some evidence that shows the institutional change that’s taking place. Definitely check out the article if you want to learn more.
My argument for this blog would be that as marriage continues to fade in popularity, we are getting closer to reaching total equality within the institution. Near the end of my post I will list a few specific challenges against the traditional institution of marriage that, in my opinion, could help promote equality for all.
After reading Peggy Pascoe’s article, “Why the Ugly Rhetoric Against Gay Marriage is Familiar to this Historian of Miscegenation,” I was overcome with a powerful since of optimism. The parallels between miscegenation laws and the current Defense of Marriage Act were strikingly similar; a good sign in my opinion. Personally, I was unaware of the long legal history prohibiting interracial marriage, and as I read I definitely began to get a since of familiarity. All of these ridiculous ideologies and claims regarding interracial marriage mirrored the opposition expressed today against gay marriage. For example, interracial relationships were defined as “illicit sex” relationships, rather than “real” marriage. We hear this same ridiculous claim today against gay relationships. Interracial relationships were also “contrary to God’s will.” Again, same thing we hear today directed towards gay marriage. Finally, interracial marriage was deemed “unnatural.” People who believe marriage is between a man and a woman rely on the “unnatural” argument to dispute gay marriage.
I believe that history can repeat itself, and if we reflect on our past, we are always moving in a direction that abolishes discrimination and slowly promotes equality (abolishing slavery, women’s rights movement, civil rights movement, etc.). As we move closer to legalizing gay marriage, the legalization of interracial marriage will provide encouragement and legal support for those looking to history to support their case.
Another historical achievement for the gay rights movement is the recent repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell." In Barrry Adam’s article, “The Defense of Marriage Act and American Exceptionalism,” the author discusses the national identity of the United States, stating that, “Superpower states are clearly gendered as male” (267). The dominant military culture of the United States spreads and promotes hegemonic masculinity, therefore “homosexual men are made to represent military failure and a threat to national security” (268). Now that gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military, the United States has taken another step towards acceptance and equality that will be a catalyst for the legalization of gay marriage.
Challenging traditional marriage, spreading the privilege
We are moving in the right direction, and while marriage is mostly exclusive to heterosexuals, there are some gendered traditions within marriage that seem to promote binaries and discourage progress.
1) The bride taking the groom’s last name. This tradition is weird, and I think people are starting to realize this. For example, this article discusses a newlywed couple in Seattle, where the groom chose to take his wife’s last name, because, as he put it, "I'm a big ole granola liberal and I wanted to tweak the tradition while showing my wife I love her." (Awwwww). The process was difficult (men must go through the expensive legal process of changing a name), yet this shows people are starting to challenge the patriarchal institution of marriage. Also, more couples are choosing to combine their two last names with a hyphen. Personally, I really like this idea and believe if more people chose to defer from the traditional “woman takes man’s name” practice, the institution itself would shift. Specifically, the distribution of power would be more even between the two partners and ultimately marriage would be more inclusive.
2) Asking the bride’s father for permission to marry his daughter. Also weird. And creepy. Clearly a practice that supports patriarchy, assuming the bride cannot totally make the decision to get married by herself, and her father’s permission is necessary to “bless” the groom’s wish. Um, gross. If you wish to talk with your partner’s parents before taking the next step, why don’t you talk to both of her parents? And to really flip things upside down, what if the bride-to-be confronted the groom’s parents prior to marriage? Let’s balance things out people.
3) The proposal. Now I’m guessing this one’s a long shot, but what if women proposed to men? This challenges the romanticized and anticipated moment in which the man gets down on one knee; a moment that many women, and men, dream about and look forward to. I’m guessing most women would not be comfortable proposing, because they never have expected to and probably believe that they can’t/shouldn’t. I say eff that. Again, let’s shake things up. If we had more women proposing to men, our notions of marriage would change dramatically. Power would be more evenly distributed, and people’s definitions of marriage would become broader.
These are just a few marriage traditions that I have thought about. I believe that they create power differences, placing men above women, and in turn promote heteronormative attitudes that discourage gay marriage. The future is bright however, and I think by challenging the system, heterosexual couples hold just as much, if not more influence, than homosexual couples in the fight for a new definition of marriage.
1) "Who Needs Marriage? A Changing Institution" - Time Magazine
2) Brad Pitt on Ellen - Access Hollywood
3) "The Defense of Marriage Act and American Exceptionalism: The "Gay Marriage" Panic in the United States" - Barry D. Adam
4) "Why the Ugly Rhetoric Against Gay Marriage is Familiar to this Historian of Miscegenation" - Peggy Pascoe