Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Evolving Freedom to Marry

Prof. Stephanie Coontz has written some important material about the evolution of marriage and the increasing demand for marriage equality. And, when she talks about marriage she is great. I can't recommend her when she speaks about classical liberalism, however. On that topic she doesn't seem to know what she is talking about and contradicts herself—for instance she damns certain periods of history as being classically liberal and says that is responsible for all the bad things that happened, yet she later speaks of how much state control there was during those same periods. But, on marriage she is good.

Here are some excerpts from a piece she wrote for the Washington Post.

For millennia, marriage was about property and power rather than love. Parents arranged their children's unions to expand the family labor force, gain well-connected in-laws and seal business deals. Sometimes, to consolidate inheritances, parents prevented their younger children from marrying at all. For many people, marriage was an unavoidable duty. For others, it was a privilege, not a right. Often, servants, slaves and paupers were forbidden to wed.

But a little more than two centuries ago, people began to believe that they had a right to choose their partners on the basis of love rather than having their marriages arranged to suit the interests of parents or the state.

Love, not money, became the main reason for getting married, and more liberal divorce laws logically followed. After all, people reasoned, if love is gone, why persist in the marriage? Divorce rates rose steadily from the 1850s through the 1950s, long before the surge that initially accompanied the broad entry of women into the workforce.

Coontz writes that freedom of choice in partners was a critical step in the evolution of marriage. Parental permission was no longer required. And people could pick partners on the basis of their love for one another, not because of concerns about property, wealth distribution, or politics, as was often the case in the past. But with this changes came another change, women started demanding equality of rights in the relationship. They were not simply there to assistance men achieve whatever they wanted. A couple now worked together to achieve mutual goals with neither being subservient to the other.

The laws changed to accept these demands for equality of rights within the marriage relationship. No longer did legislation restrict the role of women, or require them to have male permission in areas such as work, having children, property or divorce. But this change, with the others, set into motion the modern movement for marriage equality.

Gender neutrality has made many marriages fairer and more fulfilling than ever before, which has in turn been a big factor in the falling divorce rates and steep decline in marital domestic violence over the past 30 years. And spouses who share an egalitarian viewpoint report above-average levels of marital happiness, according to researchers.

The spread of gender-neutral attitudes about heterosexual marriage has also undercut support for limiting marriage to a man and a woman. Although well-financed campaigns against same-sex marriage still generate victories on Election Day, hard-core opposition has steadily eroded. In October, the Pew Research Center reported that for the first time in its 15 years of polling, less than half the public opposed same-sex marriage. That poll also found that 42 percent actively supported it - still less than a majority, but a new high. Two other national polls have found that a small majority of Americans endorse same-sex marriage.

Support for same-sex marriage is already higher than support for interracial marriage was in 1970, three years after the Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws. And since young adults ages 18 to 29 are the group most supportive of same-sex marriage, it is largely a matter of when, rather than if, a majority of Americans will endorse this extension of marriage rights.

Opponents of gay marriage argue that this trend will lead to the destruction of traditional marriage. But, for better and for worse, traditional marriage has already been destroyed, and the process began long before anyone even dreamed of legalizing same-sex marriage.

People now decide for themselves who and when - and whether - to marry. When they do wed, they decide for themselves whether to have children and how to divide household tasks. If they cannot agree, they are free to leave the marriage.

If gay marriage is legally recognized in this country, it will have little impact on the institution of marriage. In fact, the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage - an indication that it's not just the president's views that are "evolving" - is a symptom, rather than a cause, of the profound revolutions in marriage that have already taken place.

The entire article can be read here. The important point for those of you who share Hayek's views on the evolution of society, is that gay marriage is not revolutionary, it is evolutionary

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