Is the U.S. out of love with mar­riage?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Ch­eryl Wet­zstein

First of four parts

In the beloved hol­i­day movie “It’s aWon­der­ful Life,” Ge­orge Bai­ley is al­lowed­tosee­howmis­er­ablethe­fu­ture is with­out his ev­ery­day acts of hero­is­man­d­self-sac­ri­fice—and­his mar­riage.

Calami­ties are re­vealed in scene af­ter scene, but none are more pow­er­ful than the loss of his fam­ily. His cozy home is a ghostly ruin. Wife Mary is a dried-up spin­ster. There are no rose petals from daugh­ter Zuzu be­cause there is no Zuzu.

Even his town has be­come ugly and crude — with plenty of “adult en­ter­tain­ment” but no fam­ily homes, no lov­ing cou­ples, no play­ful chil­dren.

The Frank Capra film, re­leased 60 years ago last month, ends with Ge­orge’s re­demp­tion and new ap- pre­ci­a­tion for his most pre­cious achieve­ments — be­ing a good man, hus­band, fa­ther, friend and brother.

In re­al­ity, Amer­i­cans seem to be swirling in a mist of con­fu­sion about fam­i­lylife.In­many­ways,th­ey­crave aworld­in­which­mar­riage­and­chil­dren are the pin­na­cles of life. But year af­ter year, the coun­try seems to be inch­ing to­ward a cul­ture in whichadult­plea­sure­sand­pas­times haveahigh­er­val­uethan­monogamy and mini­vans.

In this se­ries, The Wash­ing­ton Time­sex­am­ines­thechang­ingviews of mar­riage and what in­sti­tu­tions such as re­li­gious groups, gov­ern-

ment and busi­nesses are do­ing to pre­serve it.

“Toomanyy­oungAmer­i­cansare grow­ing up with a rad­i­cally wrong view of life,” Paul M. Weyrich re­cently wrote in an ar­ti­cle for the Free Congress Foun­da­tion, a con­ser­va­tive think tank that he founded. “They view mar­riage as a tem­po­rary bond be­tween a man and a wo­man or, I fear, in­creas­ingly be­tween a mem­ber of their own sex.”

What chil­dren need is a “mother and fa­ther who honor their com­mit­ment to re­main united ‘for bet­ter or for worse,’ and who in­still a re­spect for God, their re­li­gion, their fam­ily and work,” Mr. Weyrich wrote.

How­ever, oth­ers see “fam­ily di­ver­sity,” “good di­vorce,” “child­less by choice,” same-sex “mar­riage” and “hap­pily un­mar­ried to each other” as in­evitable and even cul­tur­ally en­rich­ing op­tions.

“It’s time for all lev­els of so­ci­ety to adapt to re­al­ity: Stop pe­nal­iz­ing peo­ple who don’t con­form to a rigid in­sti­tu­tion,” said Nicky Grist, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Al­ter­na­tives to Mar­riage Project, a group that ad­vo­cates on be­half of “healthy re­la­tion­ships in all their di­ver­sity.”

The ques­tion be­comes: Can the model of mar­riage, in which one man and one wo­man raise their chil­dren to­gether in a life­long, lov­ing union, sur­vive in a cul­ture that in­creas­ingly prac­tices — and ap­proves of — non­mar­i­tal sex­ual life­styles and child­bear­ing?

Ben­e­fits of mar­riage

So­cial science over­whelm­ingly sup­ports the idea that mar­riage is a valu­able in­sti­tu­tion.

Com­pared with other groups, mar­ried men and women are more likely to be wealthy and healthy, live longer lives, and have high lev­els of sex­ual sat­is­fac­tion and low lev­els of de­pres­sion and sui­cide, Linda J. Waite and Mag­gie Gal­lagher wrote in “The Case for Mar­riage: Why Mar­ried Peo­ple are Hap­pier, Health­ier and Bet­ter Off Fi­nan­cially,” which was pub­lished in 2000.

Mar­riageespe­cially­ben­e­fitschil­dren: Those in mar­ried-par­ent homes are at low risk for liv­ing in poverty or suf­fer­ing ne­glect or abuse, the women wrote. They are more likely to do well in school and avoid risky be­hav­iors, such as pre­ma­ture sex­ual ac­tiv­ity and drug and al­co­hol abuse.

Grow­ing up with suc­cess­fully mar­ried par­ents pro­vides chil­dren with a home in which se­cu­rity, trust, safety, prob­lem-solv­ing skills and, typ­i­cally, a spir­i­tual life are present, the women wrote.

Mar­ried-cou­ple fam­i­lies also bind ex­tended fam­i­lies, cre­at­ing “clear ties of beget­ting and be­long­ing, ties of iden­tity, kin­ship and mu­tual in­ter­de­pen­dence and re­spon­si­bil­ity,” about 70 schol­ars wrote in a pa­per re­leased in July by the Wither­spoon In­sti­tute in Prince­ton, N.J., on how mar­riage is linked to “the pub­lic good.”

Mar­riage and fam­ily even stand as pil­lars in a free so­ci­ety, his­to­rian Al­lanCarl­son­wrotein­his­new­book, “Con­ju­gal Amer­ica: On the Pub­lic Pur­poses of Mar­riage.”

“The first tar­get of any to­tal­i­tar­ian regime is mar­riage,” he wrote, cit­ing ex­am­ples from Soviet and Chi­nese com­mu­nist regimes and Ger­many un­der Nazism.

Mar­riage for plea­sure

Much­has­been­writ­ten­about­the chang­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of Amer­i­can fam­i­lies — no­tably, the slow de­cli­ne­of­mar­riager­ate­sandthein­crease in un­mar­ried co­hab­i­ta­tion, sin­gle-per­son house­holds and un­wed birthrates.

“Amer­i­cans have be­come less likely to marry,” con­cluded the 2006 State of Our Unions re­port, writ­ten by Na­tional Mar­riage Project (NMP) co-direc­tors Bar­bara Dafoe White­head and David Pope­noe.

Re­searchers have at­trib­uted the enor­mous changes in Amer­ica’s fam­ily for­ma­tion to the in­tro­duc­tion of the birth-con­trol pill, which per­mit­ted sex with­out preg­nancy; the en masse en­try of women into the work force; and the grow­ing be­lief that cou­ples should post­pone mar­riage un­til they get a col­lege de­gree, asteadyjob­o­ramort­gage—prefer­ably all three — even if it takes un­til they are al­most 30.

An­other fac­tor is the rel­a­tively mod­ern idea that peo­ple should marry “for love,” said his­tory pro- fes­sor and au­thor Stephanie Coontz.

When mar­riage changed from a “manda­tory eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tion” into a “vol­un­tary love re­la­tion­ship,” it be­came more flexible — and more op­tional, said Mrs. Coontz, di­rec­tor of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion at the Coun­cil on Con­tem­po­rary Fam­i­lies.

“Try­ing to re­vert to an­ti­quated and un­fair tra­di­tions is not the an­swer,” she said. “We need to fig­ure out how to build on the op­por­tu­ni­ties and min­i­mize the risks as­so­ci­ated with the on­go­ing mod­ern­iza­tion of mar­riage.”

Adults only

Mrs.White­headandMr.Carl­son see other fac­tors at work, in­clud­ing the be­lief that mar­riage is first and fore­most a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship for adults.

Hav­ing chil­dren of­ten is viewed as a dis­rup­tion in one’s life course rather than a defin­ing pur­pose, Mrs. White­head wrote in an es­say ac­com­pa­ny­ing the NMP’s re­port.

The“most­sat­is­fy­ing”adul­tyears are those “be­fore chil­dren” and “af­ter chil­dren,” while the chil­drea­r­ing years are the “bone-wearyin­gand­time-con­sum­ing­work”that cuts into time that could have been bet­ter spent, she writes.

The 24/7 work cul­ture qui­etly re­in­forces th­ese per­cep­tions. Mar­ried par­ents are tied down and tired, while child­less adults and cou­ples not only have en­ergy but the free­dom to pick up and move, work odd hours and go on the road.

The mar­ket­place, too, likes du­al­in­come cou­ples with no chil­dren be­cause they have both the in­cli­na­tion and the in­come to dine out, take va­ca­tions, buy big-screen TVs, join health clubs, go to sport­ing events and en­joy $4 cups of cof­fee.

In con­trast, rais­ing chil­dren is viewed as a bud­get-buster: The U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture has es­ti­mated that it costs $237,000 to raise one child to adult­hood.

On top of this, child-rear­ing means years of high anx­i­ety and even psy­cho­log­i­cal shock to adults — es­pe­cially ed­u­cated, pro­fes­sional women who are ac­cus­tomed to spend­ing their time in ways that are per­son­ally sat­is­fy­ing, in­tel­lec­tu­ally ful­fill­ing and so­cially in­de­pen­dent, Mrs. White­head wrote.

“Moth­er­hood is an abrupt de­par­ture from this pat­tern” in that it mo­nop­o­lizes time and re­quires out­stand­ing per­for­mance but of­fers none of the “work­place” perks. “No one­gives[moth­ers]abonu­soreven a pat on the back for sit­ting up all night with a sick child or play­ing peek­a­boo and patty-cake with tod­dlers all day,” she added.

“What’s more,” Mrs. White­head wrote, “con­tem­po­rary moth­er­hood now threat­ens con­tem­po­rary mar­riage.”

Most Amer­i­cans marry for love, friend­ship and emo­tional in­ti­macy, a goal that re­quires high lev­els of time and at­ten­tion, she wrote.

“The prob­lem is that once a real baby comes along, the time, the ef­fort and en­ergy that goes into nur­tur­ing the re­la­tion­ship goes into nur­tur­ing the in­fant. As a re­sult, mar­riages can be­come less happy and sat­is­fy­ing dur­ing the chil­drea­r­ing years.”

De­cline of civ­i­liza­tion

Mr. Carl­son takes th­ese views even fur­ther, call­ing the bond be­tween mar­riage and pro­cre­ation the “so­cial and moral foun­da­tion of West­ern Chris­tian civ­i­liza­tion.”

Early Chris­tian fa­thers fa­vored pro­cre­ative mar­riage to en­cour­age sex­ual fi­delity and the divine bless­ings of chil­dren, Mr. Carl­son wrote in “Con­ju­gal Amer­ica.”

Even­tu­ally, es­pe­cially in Amer­ica, he added, lov­ing mar­ried cou­ples and big fam­i­lies be­came an ideal so ob­vi­ous that the French ob­server Alexis de Toc­queville no­ticed it. “There is cer­tainly no coun­try in the world where the tie of mar­riage is more re­spected than in Amer­ica, or where con­ju­gal hap­pi­ness is more highly or worthily ap­pre­ci­ated,” de Toc­queville said af­ter visit­ing here in the late 1820s.

How­ever, Amer­ica is mov­ing away from the view that mar­riage is a pub­lic good and the na­tion must have an abun­dance of “func­tional, child-rich homes” to thrive, says Mr. Carl­son, pres­i­dent of the Howard Cen­ter for Fam­ily, Re­li­gion and So­ci­ety.

Fam­ily pol­icy “should not try to re-cre­ate the frame­work of 50 years be­fore. It must do bet­ter,” he says. But “new pro­tec­tions and en­cour­age­ments to mar­riage are now im­per­a­tive.”

Change agents

In the mar­riage arena, two forces for change have been par­tic­u­larly no­table.

One is a “mar­riage move­ment,” formed six years ago to re­verse the trend of fam­ily break­down in Amer­ica.

Cur­rent do­mes­tic poli­cies “are based on ac­cep­tance of fam­ily break­dow­nan­dare­fo­cuse­dondeal­ing with the af­ter­math and fall­out,” Diane Sollee, di­rec­tor of the Coali­tion for Mar­riage, Fam­ily and Cou­ples Ed­u­ca­tion, said when the group’s “state­ment of prin­ci­ples” was an­nounced in June 2000.

The orig­i­nal state­ment — signed by more than 100 aca­demic, re­li­gious, po­lit­i­cal and civic lead­ers — was up­dated in 2004, with 86 pledges for ac­tion, in­clud­ing ex­pand­ing mar­riage ed­u­ca­tion, re­form­ing state di­vorce laws and de­vel­op­ing model pro-mar­riage leg­is­la­tion.

Pro-mar­riage al­lies also re­ceived an un­prece­dented boost this year when 225 pro-mar­riage and re­spon­si­ble-fa­ther­hood or­ga­ni­za­tions were awarded fed­eral grants worth nearly $120 mil­lion a year.

The new five-year fund­ing “shows where our pri­or­i­ties are,” saysEl­iz­a­bethMar­quardt,au­tho­rof “Be­tween Two Worlds: The In­ner Lives of Chil­dren of Di­vorce” and di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Mar­riage and Fam­i­lies at the In­sti­tute for Amer­i­can Val­ues.

It also re­vealed an im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus — that both Repub­li­cans and Democrats think mar­riage mat­ters, she says. Such a

To­day — es­pe­cially now that 28 def­i­ni­tion, pur­pose and value of fam­ily-di­ver­sity state­ment. there [. . . ] the next ques­tion will states have held pub­lic votes on mar­riage has sparked some proA new voice en­tered the marbe polygamy,” he says. And while con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments to de­pos­als that were un­think­able to riage de­bate this sum­mer when the polygamy has a long his­tory and fine mar­riage as the union of one most peo­ple a few years ago. Wither­spoon In­sti­tute is­sued a still ex­ists to­day, “the great ma­jor­man and one wo­man — ho­mo­sexIn Au­gust, for in­stance, about pa­per, “Mar­riage and the Pub­lic ity of so­ci­eties” set­tled on monogual rights groups and tra­di­tional270 ho­mo­sex­ual ac­tivists and their Good: Ten Prin­ci­ples.” amous one-man, one-wo­man mar­con­sen­sus “is a sig­nif­i­cant achieve­val­ues groups have honed their al­lies is­sued a state­ment about why “As schol­ars, we are per­suaded riage as they be­came more ment” that should bring long-term ar­gu­ments, and Amer­i­cans have le­gal­iz­ing same-sex “mar­riage” that the case for mar­riage can be civ­i­lized, he says. div­i­dends, be­yond the mar­riage been re­peat­edly forced to think doesn’t go far enough. Be­cause made and won at the level of reaMean­while, say the schol­ars — grants. about the def­i­ni­tion, pur­pose and mar­riage is “not the only wor­thy son,” said the 70 schol­ars of his­tory, in­clud­ing Robert P. Ge­orge of

A sec­ond force for change is the value of mar­riage. form of fam­ily or re­la­tion­ship,” it eco­nomics, psy­chi­a­try, law, so­ci­olPrince­ton Univer­sity, Mary Ann push for same-sex “mar­riage.” “I think the same-sex mar­riage “should not be legally or econom­ogy and phi­los­o­phy who signed the Glen­don of Har­vard Law School

When the de­bate over ho­mo­sexde­bate has wak­ened us up,” Mr. ically priv­i­leged above oth­ers,” prin­ci­ples. and Jean Bethke El­sh­tain of the uals’ right to “marry” emerged in Carl­son said. “For 40 years, Am­er­said the state­ment ti­tled, “Be­yond The pa­per lists di­vorce, nonUni­ver­sity of Chicago — the “great the early 1990s, tra­di­tional-val­ues ican pol­icy-mak­ers and Amer­i­can Same-Sex Mar­riage: A New Stratemar­i­tal child­bear­ing, co­hab­it­ing goal” is for more chil­dren each year groups were tongue-tied in their cit­i­zens have al­lowed mar­riage law gic Vi­sion for All Our Fam­i­lies and and same-sex “mar­riage” as to be “raised by their own mother de­fense of mar­riage. How could and mar­riage pol­icy to drift into Re­la­tion­ships.” threats to mar­riage — the lat­ter and fa­ther in lov­ing, last­ing mar­i­tal any­one ques­tion the value of a such some ter­ri­ble prob­lems. The“chal­lengeth­atlies­be­foreus be­cause “it would cre­ate a new unions.” a bedrock in­sti­tu­tion, they thought “We’ve­g­one­frombe­ingthe‘maras a na­tion is how to sup­port all re­way of look­ing at mar­riage,” says “The fu­ture of the Amer­i­can ex— un­til the Hawaii Supreme Court ryingest’ peo­ple” in the world to the la­tion­ships and fam­i­lies, not just Luis Tellez, pres­i­dent of the board per­i­ment de­pends on it. And our ruled in 1993 that re­strict­ing mar­na­tion with one of the high­est, if not mar­ried ones,” says the Al­ter­naof trustees for the Wither­spoon chil­dren de­serve noth­ing less,” they riage to bride-and-groom cou­ples ilthe­say.high­est,di­vorcer­ate,“andthat’s tives to Mar­riage Project, which In­sti­tute. legally dis­crim­i­nated against samenot a healthy change.” calls for an end to “dis­crim­i­na­tion “If we in­sti­tu­tion­al­ize mar­riage sex cou­ples. Of course, all the talk about the on the ba­sis of mar­i­tal sta­tus” in its be­tween just any­body, it won’t stop

Part 2 of this se­ries can be found on page 15

As­so­ci­ated Press

I’ll drive, Mom: Scar­lett Richko, 6, and her mother, Phoenix Richko, bounce off a snow bank while sled­ding down Pine Street dur­ing a snow storm in Gold Hill, Colo. on Dec. 28. The win­ter storm was ex­pected to dump up to 16 inches of snow on the Den­ver area, one week af­ter a pre-Christ­mas bliz­zard shut the city’s air­port for more than two days.

Lib­erty Films / Repub­lic Pic­tures

Out­dated val­ues? When the iconic Jimmy Ste­wart char­ac­ter Ge­orge Bai­ley saw his life with­out fam­ily in “It’s a Won­der­ful Life,” he re­al­ized what re­ally mat­tered. Sixty years later, many Amer­i­cans vol­un­tar­ily forgo tra­di­tional mar­riage and hav­ing chil­dren.

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