“Traditional” marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. At one point in time, “traditional” marriage meant choosing a spouse of the same race, or upholding a husband’s right to rape his wife. Heck, Romeo and Juliet were driven to suicide when their parents tried to force them into “traditional” marriages. The star-crossed lovers chose to be difficult and marry for love.
Conservatives, however, argue that “traditional” marriages is the building-block of our society. Right now, they say, that building block is under attack by swelling divorce rates, changing gender roles, and homosexuals.
In response to such chicken-little arguments, Stephanie Coontz writes in Greater Good that the institution of marriage is better off now than it was thirty years ago—divorces, gay marriage, and all. The past thirty years have been a “messy revolution” that has democratized the institution of marriage.
There are three steps the United States should take to further strengthen marriage, according to Coontz:
First, Americans should help the poor. Staying in a committed relationship and raising children is more difficult for poor people. Rasing the minimum wage and improving poor communities could create better marriages.
Second, Americans should institute more family-friendly work policies. Coontz reports that only half of the workforce in the United States qualifies for maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Those lucky enough to qualify get a mere 12 weeks off, without pay. By law, mothers receive at least two weeks of paid maternity leave in 121 other countries, but not in the United States. Changing the Family and Medical Leave Act would be a good start to bringing the United States up to the world-wide standard. After that, we can start catching up to countries like Belgium, France, and Italy, where, according to Coontz, “nearly all children are enrolled in full-day, quality preschools from the age of three until they begin primary school.”
Finally, people could admit that there’s more than one, heterosexual, married way to raise a family. Passing discriminatory laws that don't protect single, divorced, or gay parents actually hurts the institution of marriage. Non-traditional families in America are here to stay, and Coontz argues that it's unproductive to insist otherwise.