Q: Why should lawyers care about the institution of marriage?
A: As the institution itself seems to declining, the legal definition of marriage is up for grabs.
As reported by Aja Gabel in the current issue of The University of Virginia magazine, The Marriage Crisis, marriage has declined over the past 50 years and continues to decline. Excerpt.
"Only about half of Americans are married now, down from 72 percent in 1960, according to census data. The age at which one first gets married has risen by six years since 1960, and now only 20 percent of Americans get married before the age of 30. The number of new marriages each year is declining at a slow but steady rate. Put simply, if you are an unmarried adult today, you face a lower chance of ever getting married, a longer wait and higher divorce rates if you do get married. The Pew Research Center recently found that about 40 percent of unmarried adults believe that marriage is becoming obsolete.
While marriage is in decline, unmarried cohabitation is on the rise. Fifteen times the number of couples today live together outside of marriage than in 1960. Almost half of cohabiting households include children.
Why should we care about what may be a failing institution? Brad Wilcox, U.Va. sociology professor and director of the National Marriage Project, argues that the institution of marriage still symbolizes core values important to intimate relationships.
“Marriage conveys a sense of meaning, purpose, direction and stability that tends to benefit adults and especially children. People who get married have an expectation of sexual fidelity, and that fidelity tends to engender a sense of trust and security,” Wilcox says. “There is no kind of similar solemn ritual marking the beginning of cohabitation.”
Allison Pugh, also a U.Va. sociology professor, has a slightly different take on it. She says that it isn’t so much the institution of marriage that is important, but rather how well a family cares for children, regardless of its structure. Children need stability, nurturing and love, but both married and unmarried parents can provide those things, Pugh says.
Is America having a “marriage crisis?” Certainly, the institution of marriage is changing and it’s worth taking a look at why and where it might end up. It’s a question that a number of researchers at U.Va. are trying to answer by exploring the role of women in the workforce, emotional expectations for partnership and marriage’s benefits or costs to individuals and families."
In an nutshell, what has changed? Women became "liberated." We obtained college educations and entered the workforce. While discrepances in equal pay and opportunity continue to exist, women have more choices available to them while society seems ready, albeit resigned, to let us have them. Personal fulfillment is a goal rather than a tantalizing dream. Divorce is more acceptable than shameful. Birth control translatesinto higher economic brackets for both partners as women take control of their fertility and their earnings.
Ultimately, marriage in America has changed because Americans have changed:
"Marriage has changed because America has changed. We can’t return to the model of marriage from the mid-20th century because we no longer live in the culture or the economy that created it. And some would argue that we wouldn’t want to return to it even if we could. Both men and women have greater choice than they did 50 years ago not only in regard to whom they marry, but also if they do and what kind of family they want to build. And, if the experts agree on one thing, it is that these choices are some of the most important we make for our own happiness."
Click here to read more about the changing legal definition of marriage.
Which brings me to where things stand with the Prop (H)8 Trial. No one was more surprised than I to learn that the good - albeit sometimes whacko - folks in my adopted state of California swigged, chugged and guzzled the Kool-aid before adopting Prop(H)8 banning same-sex marriage. Surely, we are at least as liberal as Vermont, as smart as New York, as socially savvy as Massachusetts. But no.
Do you want to know where things stand with the Prop 8 trial? Click here to read an exceptionally nuanced 5-part series exploring the future of Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Prop 8 trial and marriage equality.
What is particularly broad-minded about the series is the author's willingness to step beyond the two cases (DOMA and Prop 8) to reflect upon the more global topic of the future of marriage equality in the United States. Excerpt.
"A vision of the future of marriage equality in the United States
Yesterday, I argued that the DOMA case should be decided before Prop 8 because it fundamentally changes the arguments to be made against California’s marriage ban, and other bans like it across the nation. Today, I want to take that a step farther and look past the two cases to the future of marriage equality in general.
Marriage equality currently stands at a tipping point in the United States, will polling beginning to shift to the majority in our favor, DOMA and Prop 8 at play before the Supreme Court, and marriage referenda in three states in November. While the legislative and judicial tracks are currently moving in parallel and do effect each other, I believe that the legislative track will eventually (and within the next few years) be exhausted, and further victories will have to come through the courts. A Supreme Court ruling on DOMA this year, rather than Prop 8, puts the marriage movement on more solid footing for the future."
Folks, the times they are a changin.
What was it that Aaron Sorkin said in his commencement address to the graduates of Syracuse University?
MR. SORKIN “You’re too good for schadenfreude, you’re too good for gossip and snark, you’re too good for intolerance — and since you’re walking into the middle of a presidential election, it’s worth mentioning that you’re too good to think people who disagree with you are your enemy.”