Author: Cole Dutton
What does marriage mean today? Is it still a sacred pact? A sacerdotal bond of dependence, affection, and sustenance between two equals? Is it dying on the vine in the developed countries of the world? I say it is all the above and more, and needs an evaluation.
Numerous intellectuals and journalist have questioned the failure of marriage since the mid-20th century from Charles Murray, Peter Hitchens, and Hannah Rosin. Some speculate that its deadbeat fathers or an irreligious culture. The answer is far from obvious. I am going to do my best to propose a handful of solutions to the marriage problem.
Other propositions seem to be exclusively in the domain of the radical liberals and leftists who seek to undermine the family as a social unit, and expand the state in its place. Most often, the propositions centre on the concept that marriage is an outdated institution; the intellectual left makes severe and absurd reference to the socialist and Jacobin interpretations of marriage as a simple contract or worse as coercion within the family; ideas espoused by the Russian and French Revolutionaries. Few today, it seems, support the wonderful institution at least not in the traditional format: which, is perhaps the only true format; they instead desire to paint matrimony in the light of a contract. A bond only subject to the affection between two people; yet this destroys the social utility, and the greatest source of succor in human life. Sadly, as the public paradigm shifts to greater liberalization and casual interpretation of the institution the sustenance of marriage is ignored or misunderstood
Yet, as citizens of the 'right', what do we say? We look at the plague upon our society, the destruction of marriage, and collectively we despair and agonize. With sermons, the theocrats state that it is a holy institution between a man and a woman and that is the only possible relationship, but is that really all? Is that really the best we can do as responsible members of society? We as conservatives have to evaluate our concept of marriage. We must face up to change and realize that what we strive for was idealistic to begin with, and we have a chance, now and possibly only now, to ignite a marriage renaissance. However, a number of specific issues keep this Renaissance at bay: some hold a religious definition of marriage as the only one; many refuse to see the value in homosexual marriage to the conservative cause; still others do not acknowledge alternative sexual relationships; meanwhile, the timid among us do not, cannot, bring up the destruction wrought by no fault divorce and the social sanction offered to single parents. All these subjects obscured as they are by conservative timidity, and canon, have betrayed us, and worse yet; they have betrayed the greatest beneficiaries of marriage: the children.
To discuss the religious foundation of marriage is not to evaluate its validity, it is valid, and beautiful and necessary, but should not be all encompassing. Rather, religions place in the institution of marriage should be utilitarian and open to disengagement. No doubt, the religious institution of marriage has value, even to the secular right, the traditions serve to legitimize and sanctify the bonds, but the dogmatic notions exclusively antecedent to matrimony alienate many, the right knows this in most parts of the world. The religious bonds to marriage need reconsidering in an ever more secular society failing to do so will prevent the union of new families and limit acceptability among the atheistic. Failure to do so will not only damage families, but the conservative movement in the western world itself.
Ideally, we could limit non-religious ceremony to civil unions, but it is plain in Canada and most other western nations this solution is unpalatable. However, by accepting a secular marriage as equivalent or at least an admirable alternative to a faith-based union we do much to broaden its acceptance.
Homosexual marriage is another tricky topic for the conservative to indulge. It is difficult precisely because the vast majority of the conservative population holds religious principles or happens to hold sympathies, as I do, for those principles. In theory the marriage, at least in the Judeo-Christian sense is a union between a man and a woman for the benefit of bringing children into the world and thereafter, raising such progeny as the parents are best suited. Most polemics, which address the legitimacy of homosexual marriage either, insist it is ungodly by nature and harmful for children. Nevertheless, would we not as concerned citizens prefer that children be brought up in a stable, married, two-parent household than the single parent alternative? Others stress that the Homosexual matrimony removes the emphasis on child rearing, as homosexuals have no ability to produce genetic children with their same sex spouse. However, this ignores surrogacy, and adoption as a means in which the child focus of marriage can be preserved.
Possibly superseding all these other considerations is the fact that Homosexual marriage is growing, rapidly, and homosexuals provide probably the best ally to the conservatives who wish to preserve the institution. Statistics Canada reports that heterosexual marriage fell to 67% in 2011 while homosexual marriages have risen 181% between 2005 and 2011. Clearly, homosexuals are embracing marriage at an unprecedented rate; heterosexuals meanwhile are abandoning the institution in droves for either single parenthood or an unstable common law relationship. Therefore, a pragmatic conservative would ally themselves with the growing number of happy, healthy, married families headed by homosexuals.
On a more personal basis there is a refusal among married couples to propose or engage in any form of alternative sexual lifestyle. No doubt these decisions are far from universal or universally beneficial. However, in an ever more sexualized world, with sleek new communication technologies the possibility of infidelity is growing. What is the modern couple to do? A man or woman may love their partner yet after ten years wish for more. I propose couples work to address this sexual mismatch in as logical way as possible and come up with some alternative structure. Dan Savage a popular commentator notes monogamy may be punitive to men. Whether we agree or not most people know at least one family that has suffered an unnecessary divorce due to adultery. Rather than see any more divided families I suggest that those who can do so consider accommodating their sexual desires in a more diverse manner in order to stabilize the household and maintain their relationship.
Finally, I suggest we as a society, especially those in government begin to re-evaluate the incentives around marriage that have evolved ever since the advent of no-fault divorce. It used to be that a man or woman had to commit a transgression to qualify divorce. Often such allegations had to be proven in a court of law. A marriage could not simply end because someone was unhappy or desired adventure or independence; the contract was binding. No fault divorce has been catastrophic and separating families simply because the parents are unhappy. It is strictly speaking, nonsense. Others claim that an unloving mother and father will raise a child in a toxic environment. However, this is absurd what matters is appearances and love for the children. Children are not privy to intimate details among mothers and fathers anyways. Parents must stay civil and married for the children.
Knowing that divorce is unlikely to return to its previous legal format any time soon I see another possibility. Divorces are largely initiated by the wife: a common statistic is 70% initiation by the wife. In addition, most divorces filed in Canada according to Statistics Canada are filed under living apart as the reason for marriage breakdown not abuse or adultery. Divorce is disastrous especially for men, and children. Children are deprived a father and a whole household meanwhile men are exploited by a vicious family court system were they pay child support under the threat of imprisonment.
Therefore, I propose a return to open shaming and stigma applied to single parents who chose to end their marriage for trivial reasons, and further condemnation for anyone who fails to bring a second parent into the household in a timely manner. Meanwhile, children, who are now a part of whole family, made up of stepparent and biological parent should no longer require child support from the second parent.
In an ideal world, we would pressure legislators to deny alimony/spousal support, and child support to any spouse who initiates a divorce without cause. In the end, a change in incentives should cause more of our youth, both men and women, to engage in marriage and increase the productivity and health of our society.
Marriage is the eternal solution to raising healthy children who do not engage in harmful behaviors. It is time we bring marriage back to the fore even if it means we entertain new solutions; society will be better for it.