Marriage Is What We Make It
Commenter Rasputin scoffs at my suggestion that, as men become less useful as economic partners and less attractive as mates, heterosexual women will begin marrying each other. You can call the idea crazy, but remember that you did so when the New York Times or Dateline runs a story about the trend of “BFF second marriages” within a decade of pervasive same-sex marriage.
To the extent that the SSM movement retains the centrality of children to our idea of marriage, it insists that men and women are entirely interchangeable in their raising. They proffer having two parents as somehow the key to that task but insist that their genders don’t matter. The overall message of SSM, however, is that marriage is not about children at all.
So what does that leave marriage to be about? It made sense, as our civilization came up with the social formula that brought us to our current level of advancement, for a layer of romantic mystique to be woven into the marriage culture for added profundity, but our society is burning the last fumes of such notions of soul mates and couples’ being “meant for each other.” Common and easy divorce and cultural narcissism are eliminating the last vestiges. Some people even argue that we’re simply living too long for expectations of a single mate to be realistic. With the removal of the real miracle of childbirth — whereby a child literally joins the two parents in one body — from our understanding of marriage, there’s no need for romance to play a role.
Best-friend marriages won’t start out as sexual relationships. Divorced mothers will quickly realize the advantages of teaming up, and marriage will help them in that regard. (Kate & Allie was a popular TV show back when it was still considered craziness to predict the probability of same-sex marriage.) Over time, individual couples and next-generation pairings may move to satisfy each other’s sexual desires, but it isn’t really necessary for the cultural phenomenon to occur; it’s long been a joke, after all, that married couples stop having sex, anyway.
We tend to forget, as these public debates develop, that our basic sense of what things mean — the essential understanding that everybody shares — changes. Everybody currently over thirty formed their sense of marriage before SSM was considered a possibility, so it’s easy to fit the new relationships into the old formula and expect everything else to stay the same. That won’t be the case.
Part of the very reason to have marriage is to create cultural expectations that men and women who behave in such a way as to create children will provide those children with stable homes consisting of their mothers and fathers. If that behavior is no longer in the equation, then there’s no reason for sex to be, and to the extent that marriage continues to offer practical benefits to the spouses, it will become an attractive option to anybody (pairs, at first) who trusts somebody else — whether divorced mothers or shiftless young men.