Saving Marriage, Not Just Tradition

| 12/3/2007 9:41:19 AM

Tags: Marriage, Homosexuality, Romeo and Juliet, family-friendly, maternity leave, traditional marriage,

Traditional Marraige“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.”

1/12/2008 9:06:49 AM

"Conservatives, however, argue that “traditional” marriages is the building-block of our society."" This sentence needs to be changed in two ways, Brendan! "Marriages" should change to "marriage," and "the" should change to "a," and you'll have yourself a real sentence!

k. eckel
12/19/2007 9:39:40 PM

Love stinks, Yeah Yeah...

a. marrero
12/7/2007 10:17:29 AM

A "mere" 12 weeks!?. And what happens during those 12 weeks? The co-workers of the parent end up doing the parent's work. And unless they are hourly workers, they get no extra pay. Having children and caring is a choice. As far as I'm concerned, the workplace is already too family friendly.

billy floyd_2
12/7/2007 12:35:26 AM

"The vast majority of my acquaintances have gotten married as a result of becoming pregnant." Don't run with a very sharp crowd, do you? Guess the info is too late to help them, but there are all sort of contraceptives available these days.

billy floyd_1
12/7/2007 12:35:08 AM

"The vast majority of my acquaintances have gotten married as a result of becoming pregnant." Don't run with a very sharp crowd, do you? Guess the info is too late to help them, but there are all sort of contraceptives available these days.

12/6/2007 8:25:42 PM

Shorter Brooke Bryan: "Cheeeldrunn r da fy000churrr!!! Give me more money!!!" Feh, breeders.

12/5/2007 12:09:51 AM

Thank you for bringing up the notion of human capital! Check out a recent Utne Podcast interview with Rianne Eisler about her new book The Real Value of Nations. The premise is that if human capital is the most important thing to the American economy why not put a value on what it takes to create great human capital.. such as parenting and education and social support systems. Image a GNP or GDP based on human support systems, nurturing, parenting and education with salarys to match that value! The Government of Canada allows for parental benefits for both my husband and or myself at %60 of our individual gross income for 12 months paid for by Employment Insurance, and a mandatory job protected leave for that year. My employer has chosen to top that up so that I end up with %80 of my gross income. Does my employer balk or suffer at the cost? I think not - A decent benefits package is what it takes to draw in some of that "human capital". So, my "traditional" marriage has a lot support that American conservatives seem to overlook - especially since, given and taking the option, my husband will be an awesome choice as primary caretaker of the kids in our equal partnership marriage.

brooke bryan
12/4/2007 7:44:00 PM

Like it or not, J.W.T Meakin, Coontz is addressing the reality of the situation. The vast majority of my acquaintances have gotten married as a result of becoming pregnant. The institution of marriage is in fact a legal vehicle for the 'safekeeping' of children and families, and always has been. Many today (with the right to marry) don't feel inclined to participate otherwise. Given your attempt to pour scorn on modern families, you might consider researching the notion of human capital, an apparently forgotten concept worth our concern. Our future is only as bright as that of the children who will continue to sprout up around us.

jwt meakin
12/4/2007 6:10:05 PM

Ms. Coontz seems to confuse marriage with the bearing and rearing of children. All three points you have quoted relate to childrearing rather than marriage itself. Even the one rather glancing point about homosexual marriage is phrased in terms of raising a family. Further, the arguments read to me like special pleading -- "I need some (more) of your money to help rear my children".

katherine s. harris_2
12/4/2007 4:53:02 PM

If Stephanie Coontz thinks all these benefits make for happier people, she should try moving to one of the more socialized countries where they already exist. I've lived in Europe (Italy) for about 40 years, and I've observed that in a socialized society, the more the government offers, the more the government taxes you, even if you don't want all the benefits it offers. And the more benefits you get, the more you think you need. I don't think Italians are, in general, any healthier than Americans. Plus they can easily get a lot of free medecine, which may not always be the best thing for them. Doctors may write prescriptions to placate patients or even to try out new drugs salesmen leave with them. There's a lot of low-paid, black market labor and unemployment, too. Marriages here, in spite of the Catholic Church, are just as apt to flounder as in non-socialized countries like the U.S....husbands cheat, wives cheat, kids rebel, it's a big game. 'Nuff said.