In reviewing the marriage-go-round, by Andrew Cherlin, I came away with a keen sense of the historical roots of the intensity with which Americans cherish marriage. Cherlin’s main point is that the United States is unique in that it has a pro-marriage culture and a culture that values personal expression and self-development, and these two profound values create the unusual pattern of high marriage and high divorce rates. Cherlin’s excellent book compares the U.S. to countries in Europe and the UK. He notes that marriage rights and marriage rates are hotly debated here, but not in other countries, where children — who gets to have them, through assisted reproduction or adoption, and who has kinship rights to them — are a more central concern.
Protests raged in San Francisco this past week, when the courts heard arguments about Proposition 8, which invalidated same-sex marriages when it passed on the November ballot. Hearing about them brought to mind some pictures a friend sent last June, when the Gay Men’s Chorus set up outside City Hall, serenading the couples as they went in.
And my friend captured the delight on this bride’s face, as she watched them on her way in.
Does marriage mean something different here? Is that why we fight over who gets to have it?
Some argue that the “soulmate” version of marriage, now ascendant, has shredded many marriages who cannot sustain that level of emotional union without other things to prop them up, institutions like churches, functions like childrearing.
But what about providing care for each other? Why isn’t that a “function” that works in the same way? What would it take for that to be the glue of marriage? For inspiration, I offer this.