Wednesday, November 04, 2009

"How Does My (Gay Marriage, Cohabitation, Out of Wedlock Birth) Affect Your Marriage Anyway?"

Whenever conservatives defend traditional marriage, you will invariably be asked why you care about somebody else's gay marriage (or living to gether or out of wedlock birth). After all, it's not going to affect your marriage, right?

The answer, of course, is that not everything has to affect you directly to affect you in the long run. These trends can affect your children's attitudes about marriage.

Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker report back with findings that raise challenges for the future of marriage as an institution...

Regnerus and Uecker note, among other findings, that the “majority of young adults in America not only think they should explore different relationships,” including sexual intimacy, “but they believe it may be foolish and wrong not to.” This belief has much to do with their ideas regarding sexual chemistry, which emerging adults tend to think of as a form of spontaneous combustion rather than smoldering possibility. Such concepts as the preservation of independence and “being your own person” combine with the belief that marriage is about finding the perfect “soul mate” to persuade emerging adults that a period of trial-and-error with various prospects is necessary to find the best fit for the permanent oasis of marriage.

Chemistry and biology are not necessarily compatible in this course of self-fulfillment. Most of the emerging adults the researchers studied desire to have children (albeit they are seen as drags on such perceived imperatives as career selection and travel), but to postpone that particular life change until later. While the findings the researchers excerpted for the Heritage conference did not address this factor directly, the reality that female fertility declines as a woman reaches age 30, and sharply so after age 35, does not seem to have impressed itself upon emerging adults as a prime consideration. Moreover, the potential impact of having multiple premarital sexual partners for comparison’s sake on the health of a later, permanent relationship, where such comparisons may hamper sustained intimacy and happiness, is a question that can be deferred but not avoided.

The sociological result is that the age at first marriage in the United States is rapidly rising, to 26 for women and 28 for men. In addition, the out-of-wedlock birth rate is approaching 40 percent for all U.S. births and is at 60 percent for the age group that Regnerus and Uecker studied. These changes follow both experiential disappointment with marriage (children watching their parents’ struggles) and cultural devaluation and deinstitutionalization of marriage. Such phenomena as no fault divorce, cohabitation, and same-sex marriage may not be altering the marriages contracted 20 years ago, but each may be playing a role in affecting the marriages not yet contracted and the families not yet formed. We are learning more, rapidly, about premarital sexual activity, with much more to learn about the hopes and hazards for post-sexual-activity marriages.

As attitudes about sexual activity change, it affects the society as a whole. In this case, it causes a delay in marriage and delay in having children (or just not having them). You might think that's acceptable. After all, it's their "choice." But as a society, should we be encouraging a lifestyle that ensures the destruction of the traditional family?

I'm not really talking so much about gay marriage here, but more about heterosexual relationships (or lack thereof). I bring up gay marriage simply because I've frequently heard the title charge when arguing about gay marriage. But where heterosexuals are concerned, this narcissistic worldview that put career and self-actualization ahead of family can and will lead to disaster. How? Because our retirement systems, particularly Social Security and Medicare, are dependent on generations after ours footing the bill. And, more practically, we will need those younger people to help take care of the old folks. What will the world look like when young people don't have children?