Thursday, April 12, 2007

(#3) A Call for Consistency: American Government Should Gear Policies Toward Children, Not Marriage

Introduction

For years, the American government has used legal and economic incentives to encourage and reward marriage in our society, on the basis that the institution fosters the most stable environment for childrearing and family development. By allocating over $150 million per year to promoting marriage and by designating over 400 state and 1000 federal rights, benefits, and protections exclusively to that institution, the government aims to encourage couples to get and stay married.

But criticizing alternative environments’ inferior conduciveness to rearing healthy children—after denying their so-called underprivileged children the protections and benefits it offers to children via married parents—reflects circular reasoning. Since doing so inevitably hinders alternatives from so much as an opportunity to compare with the marital environment, reasoning behind current American policies begs the question of whether or not marriage is even the ideal institution for successful American family development.

If American policymakers’ true intention is to promote the wellbeing of children, they appear to be taking the wrong approach. Instead of designating exclusive benefits to an institution (i.e. marriage) indirectly associated with childrearing on the mere basis that it seems most conducive for it, they should instead direct policies toward all institutions in which childrearing occurs (e.g. cohabitant, same-sex, and single parenting). They should gear their policies toward making any existing situation that children are growing up in as conducive as possible to healthy childrearing.

Literature Review

Based on the 1996 finding that “Marriage is an essential institution of a successful society which promotes the interests of children,” the Bush administration passed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, providing $150 million per year to the promotion of healthy marriages and fatherhood.[1]

"Research has shown that, on average, children raised in households headed by married parents fare better than children who grow up in other family structures . . . By supporting responsible child-rearing and strong families, my Administration is seeking to ensure that every child can grow up in a safe and loving home."[2]

Republican Kansas Senator Sam Brownback wrote a commentary expressing similar views as the above, spoken by President George W. Bush. In it, he declares that the government treats heterosexual unions with special interest over any other relationship because doing so “ensures a stable environment for the raising and nurturing of children.”[3] The value in promoting stable marriages between biological parents stems from understanding that children raised by single parents, step-families, or cohabiting couples face higher risks of poor developmental success. He further asserts, “Redefining marriage is certain to harm children and the broader social good.”[4]

But BeyondMarriage.org includes a statement on its website calling for American policy to acknowledge other familial forms besides marriage and include policies geared toward all families and relationships. The organization’s overall aim is to influence strengthening of security and stability of diverse family structures, in recognition that “families and relationships know no borders and will never slot narrowly into a single existing template.” It points out that U.S. Census findings inform us every year that diverse households are already the norm in our country, as the majority of citizens do not live in traditional nuclear families. Therefore, their statement insists that with this growing indication that marriage is not the only family form worth acknowledging, it should not be legally and economically privileged above other forms, which currently endure disservice due to their subordinate status to marriage:

All families, relationships, and households struggling for stability and economic security will be helped by separating basic forms of legal and economic recognition from the requirement of marital and conjugal relationship.[5]

Discussion

President Bush’s above claim that, “Research has shown that, on average, households headed by married parents fare better than children who grow up in other family structures,” is not indicative of a reason to benefit marriage over other institutions as he asserts. It is, instead, indicative of a reason to benefit the alternative institutions in which children are inevitably and increasingly being raised.

A 2002 study, by Robert Lerman of Urban Institute, did find that married parents overall met fewer hardships and had a less difficult time overcoming the hardships they did meet, than did any other families with children. Even among the poor, married families with children faced material hardships at a substantially lower rate than any other, even when all couples compared were at or below the poverty line, even when the parents in either familial structure lacked a high school diploma, and even when the alternatives to marriage included two incomes.[6]


However, crediting greater financial success in childrearing to an institution that currently receives more aid than any other begs the question of whether or not that particular institution is most conducive to childrearing. Rather than prove that marriage really is more conducive to childrearing than any alternative, these and similar findings signify cause and effect ambiguities.

It's possible that the correlation between marriage and the ability to overcome financial hardship does not necessarily result from the institution of marriage itself, but from the opportunities that the rights and benefits the government associates it with make more feasible. We must realize that the possibility exists that the many rights and benefits already associated with marriage are the very reason these unions are (allegedly) so much more successful in childrearing—not vice versa. Undoubtedly, a positive correlation exists between marriage and successful childrearing, but the root of the cause and effect chain—especially relative to alternative institutions— remains unclear until we can strip away the privileges and extra resources now associated with marriage, and determine who fares best in childrearing then.

Furthermore, the question of whether or not marriage truly is the most conducive structure for childrearing is not only unsettled—it is ultimately irrelevant. If the government truly aims to promote the wellbeing of children by providing and encouraging stable environments for them to grow up in, regardless of what institution is most stable for them to grow up in, or allegedly best for them, the presence of allegedly “lesser” alternatives will remain. Policies should not penalize children of those “lesser” alternatives for the circumstances imposed on them, but should instead cater to their needs to ensure they are provided for as maximally as possible.

One might argue that both the claimed conduciveness of marriage and the exclusivity of its legal benefits are important since part of the reason the legal benefits for marriage exist is not to benefit children directly, but to counter the decline in marriage, which would ultimately land America’s children in the maximally beneficial institution. In the eyes of this hypothetical idealist, the children will gain more when the benefits finally shift the trends in their favor, than they would gain if the government directly provides a crutch for whatever insufficient alternative institution he might otherwise grow up in.

My response to that potential insistence, that the perks will bring marriage back in favor, is brief: it won’t, because it hasn’t. And there’s nothing in our society that indicates any chance that it will. If the plan was, in fact, to incite a shift in the trends by designating economic incentives to the favored institution, then the plan has failed miserably and it’s time to set a new one in motion. Despite the thousands of economic benefits associated, the decline in marriage persists while cohabitation, divorce, and unmarried childrearing increases.[7]

Over the span of 1990 and 2002, marriage rates decreased in 47 of our 50 states,[8] carrying on the trend of the decrease in the U.S. marriage rate by a third between 1970 and 1996. Meanwhile, the rate of unmarried, cohabiting couples grew nearly tenfold between 1960 and 1998[9]; divorce rates more than quadrupled between 1970 and 1996[10]; and between 1965 and 2002, the number of births outside of marriage has risen from 12% to 33%[11].

At the root of these statistical trends lie societal and historical trends that compounded to incite them. According to the co-directors of the National Marriage Project, the emergence of birth control that eliminated worry of pregnancy from sexual relations; women’s dramatic entry into the workforce; growing postponement of marriage until both partners become more settled and established financially and career-wise; and the shift in marriage for love instead of economic stability, allowing couples to marry voluntarily and for pleasure instead of obligatorily and for economic stability—all contributed, along with other factors over time, to the growing decrease in marriage.

It seems clear from these causes that have become ingrained in our society, that ignoring current trends in favor of benefiting a preferred ideal (i.e. marriage) is not going to make them disappear, or even decrease significantly. Again, if the ultimate concern regards America’s children, the focus of related policies should be on them and not on the union to which they’ve been subjected. Yet our government continues to hinder the potential childrearing success of any institution other than marriage.

Our government especially steps on its own toes when it comes to the gay marriage debate. Aiming to promote marriage, yet excluding a slew of couples who wish to take advantage of it on the basis that they don’t fit the traditional mold of man and woman, is possibly the most blatantly contradictory stance the government has taken in the matter or promoting marriage and healthy childrearing.

Whether same-sex couples fit that mold or not, Census 2000 findings reflect a reality that politicians and policymakers seem to intentionally ignore: Same-sex couples are raising children in at least 96% of all U.S. counties. And not only are 25% of all same-gender couples raising children, but they also have a significantly better rate of lasting commitment to one another than do heterosexual unmarried couples who are raising children. According to the findings of a 2006 study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 41.1% of childrearing same-sex partners have been together 5+ years, compared to only 19.9% of heterosexual childrearing unmarried couples.[12] Thus, if the government so strongly believes that marriage would strengthen the environments for the children of heterosexual cohabitating partners, the same would be true for the many children that unmarried same-sex couples are raising throughout the country. Personal beliefs and so-called tradition do not change the fact that same-sex couples are raising children; and if the concern is with the best possible environment to bring children up in, then the government has no room to discriminate against this group of parents.

Again, I state these findings to call attention to our policymakers’ lack of consistency in pursuit of their so-called goal to strengthen American childrearing homes. In order to emphasize the need for reconsideration and consistency in our policies, it is important to point out such contradictions between our government’s stated aim and their actual course of action.

By excluding a large number of the very people who seek to solidify their union via marriage—our government’s “solution” of choice—the government screeches inconsistency with their alleged concern with the wellbeing of children. The blatant exclusions of committed same-sex partners who seek the allegedly stable, familial-conducive environment of marriage seem boldly counterproductive to Bush’s alleged cause of “seeking to ensure that every child can grow up in a safe and loving home.” One would think that if legal marriage yields the healthiest children, then Bush would be furthering his cause by legalizing same-sex marriage and thus making the associated securities available to the increasing number of children being raised by same-sex parents.

More findings of the study emphasize success in childrearing by same-sex parents. The researchers note, in their context for their own findings, that “…few differences have been found in research conducted over the last 3 decades comparing same-sex versus heterosexual parents’ levels of self-esteem, psychological adjustment, and attitudes toward child rearing.”[13] Their study, along with others, consistently failed to observe any differences between children raised in either circumstance, in regard to measures of personality, peer-group relationships, self-esteem, behavioral difficulties, academic success, or warmth and quality of family relationships.

The same study found that same-sex couples had more childrearing success than single parents:

…parents who raised children alone reported greater stress, increased severity of parent-child conflicts, and less warmth, enjoyment of parenting, and imaginative play than did parents in a couple relationship, whether lesbian or heterosexual. Teachers reported more behavioral problems among children in single-parent families than among children who had 2 parents in the home irrespective of their sexual orientation.[14]

Yet despite these and other findings that same-sex unions provide an environment just as stable and conducive to childrearing—if not more—as do unions between heterosexual parents, our policies continue to deprive same-sex parents of so much as the option of taking advantage of the rights and protections that serve to benefit children of married couples.

Again, I say all that to highlight the inconsistencies in our government’s current policy of rewarding marriage to strengthen childrearing environments, not to say that all families should have access to the institution in order to do so. I still maintain that the policies should focus on the children themselves, separate from the institutions in which they are raised.

The best way to encourage more stable childrearing environments all-around would be to end the indirect associations of beneficial policies for children through marriage, and instead designate them directly to any circumstance actually involving the upbringing of children. By strengthening any institution on the basis that children are involved, and not simply on the basis of a marriage, the government is much more likely to successfully encourage healthier, happier, more stable environments for our country’s children, across the board.

Terence Dougherty explored financial circumstances of real and hypothetical same-sex couples, comparing them to the possibilities that access to the same rights as married couples currently could offer them in comparison. By imagining the presence of children in their circumstances, and by broadening the context of the deprived individuals we’re considering beyond same-sex couples to any unmarried couple with children, be it a matter of cohabitation or single parenthood, we should be able to understand the effect these discriminatory benefits could have if refocused toward children instead of marriage. What parents would actually use the lost or gained funds for is irrelevant; the point to understand is the extent to which parents that our current policies penalize could gear their money toward increasing their children’s financial resources for food, shelter, clothing, education, etc.

The General Case
Dougherty first references a couple that must file their taxes separately, unlike married couples who have the option of filing jointly to lower tax liabilities. This option allows them a multitude of benefits including tax-free dependent health benefits, while members of same-sex or cohabitating couples pay taxes on the value of dependent health benefits they’ve utilized in the past year, which is one factor that may further increase their tax liability. Single parents must also pay taxes on any benefits he/she may have utilized toward the child on his/her own in the past year.

As a result of the couple’s exclusion from this privilege, their combined federal and state income tax liability was 25% higher ($2689 more) than it would have been had they been able to file a joint return.[15] Over the span of 18 years an averaged excess payment of $2689 represents $48,402 a couple could have saved toward their child’s college education.

The Death of a Parent
Next, Dougherty explored the application of social security survivor benefits, the result of designating a portion of all social security payments toward survivor’s insurance, to be given to a surviving spouse in the event that his/her mate dies. The couple he referenced in this example would have had a social security benefit of $1952 per month for the survivor if his partner died. But currently, with this benefit only associated with married couples, the survivor would receive nothing, left to fend for himself and his child on a single income where they’d previously had access to two. Associating that right with the presence of a child instead of the presence of a marriage certificate ensures the child in this hypothetical situation the continuation of the deceased parent’s income rather than suddenly leaving him completely reliant on the income of the one surviving parent. And again, in consideration of the college fund, making that association would represent $421,632 more to set aside for the child over 18 years.

Inheritance
The final example Dougherty explores involves gift taxing, using a hypothetical example this time, of a lesbian couple Susan and Mary. If Susan wishes to invest her $3,000,000 worth of investment assets in a mutual fund for herself and Mary, federal and state law would classify that transaction as a $1,500,000 gift to Mary and tax her a total of $285,360. But if they were entitled to the same breaks as legally married couples currently have, they would have paid nothing in gift taxes, and that much more money would exist for the children’s potential benefit.

These examples represent only a few of the opportunities that unmarried parents have no access to despite the governmental claim that these benefits serve to aid the establishment of a more financially stable environment in which families are being raised. One couple facing all these hindrances have their financial liability to the government compounded to a hindering amount in comparison to those of married parents, who can and will use much of the money they save, on their children. Combined, the three families above represent a total potential loss of $755, 394. A family facing the combination of these possible hindrances plummets below the playing field by the same amount that the family with these benefits advances above it. This may seem like an extreme case, but these examples only account for three of the thousands of benefits that our current policies deny unmarried parents, and could easily reflect a real potential circumstance: general tax liabilities combined with a sudden death of one parent that leaves behind an inheritance. For no reason should a child be denied $755,294 that another child has access to, simply because he has unmarried parents. This drastic difference in tax liability that penalizes unmarried families’ children greatly indicates a dire need to level the playing field if our government is truly concerned with the wellbeing of America’s children.

Conclusion
I realize that more contributes to children’s wellbeing than their financial circumstances. According to another analysis, there are plenty more factors besides more stable finances that contribute to making marriage the ideal circumstance for childrearing. The analysis claims that cohabitating relationships yield greater rates of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and dysfunctional relationship behavior.[16] Heather Long, Community Director for Families.com, references marriage’s common association with stability in our society. According to her, this association exists because married people tend to lead longer, healthier, more financially stable lives that yield the most confident and secure offspring.[17]

However, even if those assertions are true, I see no productive potential in the government only further hindering alternative structures in comparison to married families. Marriage as an institution may offer significant benefits of its own, but there is no need for the government to contribute to the gap between married families’ potential success in childrearing, to non-married families’ potential. Ignoring the reality that alternatives are on the rise, in favor of wishful thinking that the ideal of marriage will resurface as the norm, is unfair to the children our policymakers claim to be so concerned about. They should not jeopardize the wellbeing of our society and its children simply on the basis of its bias toward the undeniably faltering institution of marriage.

[1] Administration for Children of Families. “ACF Healthy Marriage Initiative.” (2007). 12 April 2007 .
[2] Administration for Children of Families.
[3] Brownback, Sam. “Defining Marriage Down.” National Review Online. (2004). 12 April 2007 .
[4] Brownback.
[5] Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision for All Our Families and Relationships. BeyondMarriage.Org. (2006). 12 April 2007 .
[6] Lerman, Robert I. “How Do Marriage, Cohabitation, and Single Parenthood Affect the Material Hardships of Families with Children?” Urban Institute. (2002). 12 April 2007 .
[7] Marriage Statistics. Chicagoland Marriage Resource Center. (2007). 15 April 2007 .
[8] Marriage and Divorce Rates by State: 1990, 1995, and 1999-2002. Department of Health and Human Services: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 15 April 2007 .
[9] Marriage Statistics.
[10]Divorce Rates. Americans for Divorce Reform. (2006). 15 April 2007 .
[11] Sigle-Rushton, Wendy, and Sara McLanahan. “For Richer or Poorer? Marriage as an Anti-Poverty Strategy in the United States.” Population, Vol. 57: 509-526. (2002). 12 April 2007 .
[12] Pawelski.
[13] Pawelski.
[14] Pawelski.
[15] Dougherty, Terence. “Economic Benefits of Marriage: Under Federal and Connectitcut Law.” National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute. (2005). 12 April 2007 .
[16] Marriage Statistics.
[17] Long, Heather. “American Society Favors Marriage.” (2006). 12 April 2007 .


Comment on Well-Written Blog: SaveTheMarriage.Com

Yes, it's true... I am advocating a blog that aims to perpetuate these unions that I so often deem as silly:

Lee Baucom, a marriage counselor with a PhD., maintains his SaveTheMarriage blog, based on his best-selling eBook of the same title.
His is a well-written blog that enlightens or simply reminds husbands and wives about the reality of what their union demands. He addresses common myths and hypocrisies partners impose on one another, and offers reality checks in terms of expectations and the best way to handle inevitable issues that arise in an institution that evolves from romance to companionship simply because it's its nature to do so. He addresses the instincts that can often lead to more trouble in marriage than a couple originally meant to address and correct by applying logic, as an outside party, that people involved in unions tend to become blind to when their emotions are in the picture.

His explanations are not textbook, bland, or distant, but based in anecdotes, examples and observations that virtually anyone could relate to.

For instance, I'm not married, and never intend to be, yet I still benefit from this important reminder and perspective he offered in his February 13th post:
"Someone can love you, and not meet your needs. You can love someone and not meet their needs."

And from there, he goes on to detail a woman whose husband gave her early Valentine's flowers for her in demonstration of his love and thoughtfulness, but later dismissed her need to be heard because she was interrupting a television program to talk. Easily, a woman in that instant feels unloved. But in this simple assertion and that basic example, Baucom reminds his readers of reasoning that we can easily forget in the midst of our own relationships, particularly, in this entry, by offering as proof, the simple reality that we cannot deny: we do it to others all the time.

With the same simple and basic approach to various other relationship topics--such as why weekend getaways aren't panaceas and the flaws in the declaration "We need to talk"--he does a wonderful job in his entries, of clearing up common misconceptions that could otherwise spin a marriage or relationship out of control. It's free counseling and it's quality. His effectiveness is rooted in his ability to keep it simply and comepletely honest with his readers.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Comment Repost: "Walking Marriages"

Definitely enjoyed this read on Walking Marriages -- my comment's reposted below:

I'm always excited, for comparison's sake, to learn about alternatives to our tradition of marriage as a lifelong union...

The Mosuos' concept of the relationships between man and woman seems so much more realistic than ours, in many ways; but of course, that may simply be because I'm still relatively uninformed and thus imposing our own cultural norms, which may not even be factors in terms of what actually matters to them. Ignorance aside, however, my own belief is that it's not even within the capacity of human nature to be solely bound to the same individual for the entirety of one's life in the way we like to imagine in America. Our expecations seem to have been too deeply influenced by fantastic tales of true love and romance in books, films, and other works of fiction. (All the grown-ups around me tell me that this belief is fine for now because I'm young and a few more years of life will convince me otherwise. We'll see.)

Your blurb also raises a number of questions, though. For instance, how did this form of marriage arise among these particular people? What about their culture and their lifestyle made this the most conducive marital form in the midst of the prevalent others, nothing at all like it? What forms had preceded it and why did this one emerge and evolve?

I'm also curious about how commonly women do find themselevs attached enough to commit to the same man forever... Often? Typically? Never? Do they wish they could live with the men of their choosings whether than with their own blood relatives? How do they men feel? Do they occasionally lash out in attempt to pursue a woman for themselves rather than be stuck with only the women who come to him? Do the Mosuo only mate this way for reproductive purposes, or also for pleasure? How prominent is homosexuality?

I also wonder whether the Mosuo feel there's anything "missing" from their relationships, in the absence of our own standards of courtship... The answers to that particular question could speak to how much of a necessity our standards actually are in terms of human nature versus to what extent our own culture just wedged them in for some other reason. I'm willing to believe we force ourselves into grand attempts at monogamy for a good reason--I just need to see that reason at its root for myself, to even begin to fully understand it.

Thanks for introducing such an interesting alternative--I definitely want to learn more about the Mosuo and their "walking marriages." I find it interesting, too, that they still refer to them as marriages, considering that my understanding of "marriage" by definition is that it necessarily indicates some form of lasting committment... So I also wonder what about these unions warrant that designation as "marriage"...

Monday, April 2, 2007

Comment Repost: Religious Marriage versus Civil Marriage

Comment to Religious Marriage versus Civil Marriage, reposted below:

This article points out an important idea that ties in to my own demand that the government be consistent if it insists upon having a say in marriage....

You're right, the many defenses for the illegalization of certain unions is inherently hypocritical.

As you said:

Moral does not necessarily mean legal and immoral does not necessarily mean illegal.

And the government's own actions back that claim. If it is going to ban some practices under the guise that they're immoral, then it can't allow legalization of other matters considered immoral by the same (religious) system. Clearly, they have a ulterior agenda (i.e. a prejudice), or something to hide when alcohol is fine... premarital sex isnt unlawful... gambling is condoned in scattered areas of the U.S.--but same sex marriages are unlawful--because it's immoral...? There has to be more to it than that.

Another underlying issue with the government's line of reasoning: usage of the Bible's morality in application for the country is unacceptable in the context of an alleged promise often referred to as "separation of Church and State." If homosexuality is immoral, then the government leaders will need to reference a basis stronger than personal prejudice and aside from religion upon which they've drawn that conclusion. Often, in this instance, an individual may revert to claims of tradition. But rather than subject you to my own tangent against such claims, I'll direct you to Stephanie Coontz, who explains it best. (Although I'm sure, you're familiar with her already through your work in this field.)

Besides, as you state immoralism is not the pre-requisite for something considered unlawful either, such as speeding, which, to me, is another indication that the claim, that homosexual relationships are immoral, is a mask for ulterior motive the government has for exluding same sex unions from legal recognition.

Even when you point out the difference between divine law and civil law, divine law commits the same inconsistencies--acknowledging marriage of fornicators, no questions asked and acknowledging divorce, etc. Neither of them should actually involved themselves in validating a marriage in the first place because at its root, marriage is a union determined by the two people involved. But if the Church and the Government insist on being involved, again, I ache for consistency in their alleged motivations and the reality of their actions.

Position: Government Policies Should be Consitent with Alleged Intentions

Our society is constantly in the midst of various debates involving the use of public policy to preserve, strengthen, and encourage the tradition of the insitution of marriage, particularly in the name of perpetutating marriage as the basis of the familial environment. Included within this debate are the controversies over the legality of same-sex marriage, adoption policies for same-sex couples, the role of the government in mandating marriage, and countless other issues.

Policy-makers continually cite as the basis for the value of marriage, that married people lead longer, healthier, happier lives--and most importantly provide the most stable environment for developing a family, particularly when it comes to childrearing.

But too many inconsistencies arise when considering this claim in the context of policies as they actually, currently exist.

It is no longer the case that marriage and childrearing necessarily go hand in hand. Marriage means something different in society now than it did in the past, and married couples do not necessarily have children in mind when they form their own eternal union--yet they can still benefit from the rights associated with marriage for the alleged purpose of strengthening childrearing environments. So to say that rights are associated with marriage to indirectly benefit children is misleading, especially while trivializing any other childrearing institution in comparison.

Currently, legally recognized marriages only include unions between a man and a woman. But there are many other circumstances (such as single-parent homes, cohabitors, same-sex couples, and even polyamorous relationships) under which children are raised, and further disadvantaging those institutions is not going to eliminate them from our society but only further hinder the maximally successful development of the children of those families. If the primary concern really is the good of the developing children in our society, if the government believes children are already at some disadvantage by being raised in non-married homes, then they would not further deprive them of rights and benefits that would only aid their upbringing. They would instead adapt policies to benefit these alternative circumstances.

This observation and (consideration) brings me to the conclusion that many of these motivations and policies are based on a prejudices and bias that marriage is really the most conducive situation for childrearing, when this really may not be the case.

IF this is the case, the government should focus on strengthening the possibilities that the alternatives offer, so that they may offer the same success as that which we associate with our "traditional" sense of marriage.

The government cannot enforce policy solely on wishful thinking, but needs to actually consider the reality of the situation at hand. It needs to get away from the obsession with marriage--which may not even necessarily be most conducive for family anyway. It's not nearly as much about pragmaticism as it was in the past as it is about love and personal fulfillment at this point--and the law cant dictate that. The law still speaks to something that's past, and the wellbeing of society should not be jeopardized simply because of the government's bias toward a faltering institution.

Comment Repost: Should the Government Have a Say in Marriage?

Comment to Should the Government Have a Say in Marriage? reposted below:

Let's not forget that the tenth amendment also states as an option that powers not delegated to the federal government could be delegated "to the people." The respective states are not the only other option for that responsibility, and the government should either have no place in marriages, or--if it insists upon carving out a place for itself--it should at least establish a consistent one.

Sure, "The government recognized marriage as an important part of civilized society," but let's consider why: I've heard and read claims that the institution gained such recognition due to the alleged association it has with longer, healthier lives for all those involved. But most importantly, it seems to have gained that status due to the stable environment it allegedly provides for families, especially those with children, who apparently grow up healthier and happier and more psychologically stable than those of unmarried parents.

But if the pubic policy's concern is to create environments more conducive to healthy childrearing, then benefits should apply to alternative sects as well, because other types of families do raise children, and at a rate that is rapidly emerging as the norm. Favoring an ideal circumstance through public policy is not going to eliminate the growing reality of those alternatives. The government should instead enforce policies to actually cater to any family with children present.

The use of these privileges to benefit only unions between man and woman perpetuates a prejudice that seems inherent in our government's agenda. If childrearing is their genuine concern, they would adapt the allowances to include all those who contribute to that cause of raising healthy children.

Until the government is ready to consider all family-inducing unions equal, they should stay out of the business altogether. It confuses the meaning of marriage to attach governmental benefits to it--marriage was never meant to be a government sactioned institution, but one to serve the varying needs and preferences of the couples and families involved. If the government is not going to "protect" everyone to whom that all-inclusive description applies, it should bow out, protect no one, and leave such institutions as marriage "to the people" engaged in them.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

My First Wikipedia Edit!

I added the entry, "Head and Master" laws to Wikipedia, as there was no mention of it anywhere on the site, as far as the search option indicated.

I learned of these laws, now abolished, from Stephanie Coontz's articles regarding common misconceptions of marital traditions. Until 1979, when Louisiana became the final American state to repeal them, these laws served to grant husbands final say in most familial matters of household and property, without any need for input from the wife, or even so much as her knowledge of his decisions. Coontz mentions the laws to point out that they, not our current system of relative gender equality within a marriage, are more "traditional" than what we commonly note as tradition, and we should thus be careful of demanding regressions to traditions--and furthermore realize that elements of marriage that changed in the past probably changed for good reasons, as changes that the institution is currently undergoing are probably for reasons just as valid that will benefit us just as greatly as such abolishments as those of Head and Master Laws.

I had trouble linking and citing my references, but I believe the Wikipedia editors went back and corrected them for me, as my errors have disappeared.

I also have trouble locating the entry because "head and master laws", "head and master," "'head and master' laws," and any prompt other than "'Head and Master' laws" (exact capitals, quotation marks, and all) takes me to a page that says no entry on the subject exists.

I'd love to figure out how to fix that (perhaps the Wiki editors will take care of that as well), but otherwise, I'm proud of my tiny addition to the Wikipedia world.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Public Policy, Rapidly Headed in the Wrong Direction

The American public is in a frenzy over changes that certain social norms are undergoing. With the rise of cohabiting couples, changing family structures, and especially the gay marriage debate, panic has ensued. As a result, concerned masses are desperately resorting to public policy to disguise personal opinions, preferences, and prejudices as pride in the aim of protecting what they call "tradition."

Well, if we're going to resort to tradition as our model for what is best, let's be informed. Furthermore, let's be consistent.

And in no time, you will observe a need to be a bit more realistic:

Author, scholar, and marriage history guru, Stephanie Coontz, pointed out that the most widely accepted tradition of marriage has been polygamy throughout the majority of cultures in human history.

If that's the case, our current fixation on monogamy is a blatant violation of so-called tradition. In the name of preserving tradition, we as a society must quickly remedy this, as every husband who faithfully exhibits lifelong commitment to his lone wife is clearly a disgrace.

Only for the past 30 years has American law denied husbands final say in their households. If we really want to uphold tradition, I have an inkling that we'll need to reinstate Head and Master laws before the very foundation of our society crumbles away completely.

For nearly fifteen years now, marital rape been a crime in every state--what utter foolishness. What is marriage anymore if a wife has the right to decline intercourse when her husband requests it? I don't know what the world is coming to....

In the past, love was considered a poor reason to get married, yet our current society considers pre-marital absence of love as a near tragedy. But since tradition indicates a need to get over it, love needs to find its way back out of the picture if we really want to strengthen marriage in our society...

But here's the real kicker: when it comes down to it, marital tradition, at its very root, eliminates the very roles of both religion and public policy within the institution. Traditionally, words of consent between a man and a woman were enough to validate a marriage. Marriages existed and lasted long before the emergence of any requirement of legal or religious approval, so who needs them to validate our unions now?

But i digress.

The point is, as hard as it may be to believe, it might actually strengthen the goals of American public policy to consider the value of some alternatives to our currently preceived traditions.

Coontz points out in several essays that what our society considers as traditions are inevitably quite young compared to others that had existed before--others that our own "traditions" trumped at some point because changes in social norms either made them less relevent or completely obsolete.

Thus, let us not blaspheme against the good name of "tradition" by insinuating that tradition necessarily trumps change--clearly, the tradition IS change in correspondence with the advancement of the culture in question.

That said, if we take a few steps back, we will probably realize that we are probably in the midst of such a transition now, and change would probably do us good. We might come to terms that with our changing perceptions of ourselves and our societies, much of what we currently consider as tradition doesn't hold anymore.

By refusing to acknowledge this, creators and enforcers of public policies condone negligence and irresponsibility among themselves. IF they insist upon involving themselves with marriage, instead of trying to revert the institution of marriage to something that it once was, public policy should move with it and embrace the changes of which we're in the midst in order to properly adjust policy in a way that will actually serve our society.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Introductory Research: Hindu Practice, Sati

A friend of mine, Joseph, recently told me about an Indian tradition called Sati, in which a recent widow would co-cremate herself alongside her dead husband--per cultural expectation--unable to bear life without him. Of course, I had to investigate:

The term, which now means 'chaste woman,' or 'virtuous woman' derived from the origional name of Gauri or Dakshayani, Goddess of marital longevity and contentment, whom Hindi women pray to in pursuit of long lives for their husbands. According to Hindu mythology, she was the wife of Dakhsha, and was so overcome at his death that she immolated herself on his funeral pyre.


The act, in many instances, had culturally been considered as a required act for a pious woman, and was not considered as suicide in her case, but an act of righteousness, purging the couple of their shared sins to guarantee their salvation and eternal union beyond death.

The Greeks believed the practiced emerged as a means of discouraging wives from poisoning their husbands.

Speculation suggests the possibility that the ritual carried the sense of culminating the marriage, as in a related act husbands and wives dressed in their wedding clothes and re-enact the ritual before parting to die.

Hero-stones commemorating the occurrences claim wives committed Sati out of love so great for their husbands that they wanted to be together after death, but history indicates otherwise. In Rajasthan, the woman seems to die to protect their honor from invading enemies after their husbands died in battle. (Kamat)

One source credits the 'halo of honour' associated with Sati, with its perpetuation--mainly among the Rajput marital caste who committed collective suicide after a battle in which male members had died at an enemy's hand. The act, more formally known as Jouhar in this case, was even committed before husbands actually died at times of certain defeat. Indians keep the memory of these women alive by songs glorifying their act. (Vivaaha)

Women committing the act came to be believed to go directly to heaven, redeeming any forefathers that rot in hell. (Kamat)

Another argument from some Hindu scholars is that the practice was never related to any doctrine, but emerged as a way for Hindu women to escape the stigma associated with rape during the Islamic invasion of India, to protect their honor in the midst of numerous acts of mass rape of easily captured city women. With the choice between glorification and honor or the lonely shunning and potential abuse of widowhood, it seems clear why women may have preferred the former option.

One source notes that sati was nearly absent among other castes and aboriginal tribes, and more prevalent among the priestly and martial castes of Brahmins and Kshatriyas, in which a bride was looked upon as a burden draining the family's income while contributing nothing to it. Thus, it seems inevitable that her presence would be even more indicative of deadweight among the in-laws after the husband's death. They considered the touch, voice, and appearance of a widow as unholy, impure, and abhorrable, thus making her presence intolerable. Remarriage was nearly impossible due to the sanctity of a bride's virginity. Furthermore, a woman was literally considered as part of her husband, almost completely lacking individuality--without him, she became no one. (Vivaaha)

Most instances of sati occurred voluntarily, on the day of the husband's death--and thus without much time to reconsider, yet possibly as a result of cultural, or at least, community expectations since the widow had little to expect out of life following the husband's death, particularly if she has yet to bear children.

Apparently, there were some instances of measures being taken to prevent the widow from committing the act, on specific occasions.

One version of sati is merely symbolic, and lacks the actual death of the widow, in which the woman lies next to her dead husband in enactments of the marriage and funeral ceremonies, but leaves unharmed.

There were also instances, however, of widows being physically forced to commit sati, even beyond the cultural pressures that existed. Now, in modern India, the practice is illegal to attempt, promote, or watch. It was banned in 1829 by the British government, then needed to be banned again in 1956 after a resurgence--and again after another revival in 1981. (Indianchild)

The most recent account took place in 2002, when a 65-year old woman burned to death on her husband's funeral pyre. According to reports, her two adult sons made no attempt to stop her, and 4000 onlooking villagers pelted police officers with stone to keep them from interfering with the ceremony. After the event, local witnesses declared that they wanted to worship the woman as their new goddess. Prior to this occurrence of sati, the most recent had been in Rajasthan in 1987, when 18-year old Roop Kanwar burned to death. (BBC)

In 1996, the Indian Court freed the relatives who assisted Roop Kanwar (...), upholding the suicide as a social tradition. (Kamat's Potpourri- tradition thru the centuries)
However, the case attracted widespread media attention that led to legislation that called for the death penalty of anyone (abetting) sati... Nevertheless, mentions of the act still tends to evoke sentiments of deep respect among villagers. (BBC)

As remarriage for widows remain uncommon, they still feel shunned or forced into poverty and a life alone by in-laws who blame them for their husbands' death and instill a fear of potential abuse (e.g. sexual, or starvation) if they stick around.

More recently, many widowed women have run away voluntarily, by the thousands, often to Vrindavan--so many and so often, in fact, that the city has come to be known in India as the "city of widows," where they know they will at least be provided with daily rations of a cup of rice and 7 cents. The city's ashrams are controversial among women's rights groups, who clam that they have turned these women's misery into an enterprise, as they raise tens of thousands per year but choose to leave the women there in poverty. (CNN)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Two Zotero Annotations

Burnham, T.C., et al. “Men in Committed, Romantic Relationships have Lower Testosterone.” Hormones and Behavior. (2003). 19 February 2007 .


Context:

Based on the compilation and summaries of the results of 45 human studies, a consistent, positive correlation exists between aggression and testosterone, which seems to foster success in competitions over dominance.

While testosterone also facilitates libido--and thus possibly encourages mate-seeking behavior--long term romantic relationships and fatherhood would seem to reduce such behavior, and thus lower testosterone levels. However, prior to this study, there had been little exploration of this tendency in academic research.

Main Idea:

Whether married or not, men in committed, romantic relationships tend to have lower levels of testosterone than those who are single or unfaithful.

Methodology:

Researchers collected questionnaires and saliva samples (from which to test testosterone levels) from 122 male Harvard Business School Students between the ages of 23-24. The subjects varied in status, including married with children; paired, committed, and unmarried; and unpaired.

To control the experiment's conditions, the researchers collected all samples between 10 and 10:20 am over a 9 day period during Sprin 2002, from the students, who were all on the same schedule of classes and in the same seating scheme over the time period and gave each a stick of sugarless gum to stimulate saliva production.

During the collection, each student also filled out a short questionnaire regarding relationship background and other demographic data.

Major Findings:

Testosterone in the fathers, all married, had 28% lower levels than did married, childless men in the sample; but the researchers point out that their small sample size for that group (9 married with children) did not yield enough statistically significant weight, although the results were still consistent with results of previous studies exploring that particular question.

The data, researchers note, does not address the question of causation--whether partaking in such relationships is responsible for lowering testosterone levels, or whether naturally lower testosterone levels indicate a heightened tendency to engage in committed relationships.

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Pawelski, James G., et al. “The Effects of Marriage, Civil Union, and Domestic Partnership Laws on the Health and Well-being of Children.” Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. (2006). 19 February 2007 .

Context:

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) developed an analysis in 2005, based on their core philosophy of family as the principle caregiver and center of strength and support for children. They recognized and explored, in their analysis, the complex challenges that are unique to same-sex couples with children that result from public policy excluding them from civil marriage.

Civil unions emerged as a legal mechanism intended to grant same sex couple legal status somewhat similar to civil marriage; but they have only been established in Vermont and Connecticut, and are only recognized there. Outside of those states, the same couples are denied the same rights, benefits mad protections as heterosexual couples. The rights are state based and the U.S. federal government does not recognize civil unions. As a result, over 1000 federal rights, benefits and protections are unavailable to same-gender couples joined by civil unions.

Opponents of same-gender civil marriages often suggest that the legal recognitions afforded by civil marriage for same-gender couples is unnecessary, noting that all of the rights and protections that are needed can be obtained by drawing up legal agreements with an attorney. In reality, same-gender partners can secure only a small number of very basic agreements, such as power of attorney, naming the survivor in one's will (at the risk of paying an inheritance tax, which does not apply to heterosexual married couples), and protecting assets in a trust, (358).


Main Idea:

Public policy in America aiming to promote stable and secure families disregard families headed by same-sex couples, thus placing them at a significant disadvantage. This is also the case in regard to unmarried heterosexual parents, single parents, and extended familial guardians. Therefore, children of these groups--of particular focus in this study, or same-sex parents--often face insecurity in the economic, legal, and familial realms.

Since there is more than 25 years of ample evidence documenting that children raised by same-gender parents develop as well as those raised by heterosexuals, then public policy should not deny the parents of their children the rights, benefits and protections that civil marriage offers other parents. Rights, benefits, and protections that civil marriage offers would only serve to further strengthen those families.

Methodology:

The researchers summarized Census 2000 findings to conduct an in-depth exploration of individual state treatment and perspectives of trends, advancements, and their basis in regard to recognition, bans, declarations, attempts, reasoning, arguments, and respective effects from state to state, regarding both same-sex marriage/unions and adoptions.

Major Findings:

About 1/4 of all same-sex couples are raising children. 41.1% of same-sex couples raising children have been together 5 years or longer compared to only 19.9% of heterosexual unmarried couples have stayed together that long.

Comparisons of children raised by heterosexual and homosexual parents fail to document any differences between them on personality measures, peer-group relationships, self-esteem, behavioral difficulties, academic success, or warmth and quality of family relationships.

Children raised by homosexuals may offer some advantages, as one study described them as more tolerant of diversity and more nurturing toward younger children than children of heterosexual parents. These children did, however, face more teasing from their peers than children of heterosexual parents.

Parents who raised children alone reported greater stress, more severe parent-child conflicts, and less warmth, parental satisfaction and imaginative play than did coupled parents, whether heterosexual or homosexual.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Profile: Two Diigo Members' Bookmarks

Egnarorm, on Diigo, tags five of his social bookmarks with the label "marriage", all of which could be useful to me and my marriage research:

1) Concerned Women for America - Top 10 reasons to Support the Marriage Affirmation and Protection Amendment

2) Legal and Economic Benefits of Marriage

3) Education on Same-Sex Marriages

4) Marriage Equality USA

5) U.S. Divorce Rates for Various Faith Groups, Age Groups and Geographical Areas

One downfall of this list is that it doesn't let a reader know immediately what source a given article is from. Furthermore, beyond the link itself, egnororm does not venture into any details, comments, or responses of his own about the piece..

I take this as indication that his primary goal on Diigo is not necessarily to network, but simply to store these articles for himself and his own future use.

His interest in the subject of marriage seems to have emerged, peaked and declined within the same period of October 2006, as all of his articles on the subject appear during that time.

His overall interest seems to lie consistently within the realm of social justice, as indicative by his first few tags in the alphabetically ordered list at the side of his page: "2005, abortion, academia, academic, activism. . . argument. . .big ideas. . . civil rights. . . conservative. . . conspiracy. . . divorce. . . drugs. . ." and so on.

I don't detect much else from his page, about him or his interest, as his profile (like mine) is empty, offering only the default Diigo image for my viewing pleasure.

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Another member of the Diigo community, Mounirra, also hosts a fair amount of bookmarks that could be helpful in my own research:

She has tagged eleven of bookmarks under "marriage," although there are only five different articles on the list, predominately from Psychology Today:

1) Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying - New York Times

2) Psychology Today: The Reinvention of Marriage

3) Joey Adams Quotes

4) Psychology Today: Til Debt Do Us Part

5) Psychology Today: Love Lessons

There doesn't seem to be a terribly consistent form to her listings, but for the most part she does at least provide the title and source of the work, along with some comments of her own.

Only one of her bookmarked articles, "Questions Couples Should Ask...", received comment from another Diigo member.

Of particular interest to me, of any article on the list, is "The Reinvention of Marriage"; and I suspect, from her many comments and four-time bookmarking of this particular article, that it was of particular interest to her as well, among the others she posted.

She, too, provides only her name in her profile, with no picture or additional information about herself or her particular interest(s); but her primary interests, based on her most frequent tags, seem to relate to love and relationships. Her top twenty include "love", "relationship", "psychology", and "marriage".

A few of her thirty links on love are also of interest to me in relation to my own subject, such as:

1) How Love Works

2) The Science of Love

3) The Truth About Compatibility

4) How to Overcome the Fear of Marriage

Comment Repost: The History and Superstition of Marriage

Comment on Gillian Markson's "The History and Superstition of Marriage", reposted below:






There's really something to be said for the "hand fast" tradition:






This marriage lasted a year and a day, after which time the couple could 're-up' together forever, or leave the relationship, taking everything that each one had brought into it.



Whenever did we lose that part of the process? It seems incredibly valuable, and certainly seems to make the whole prospect of eternal union a bit less daunting, with the inclusion of an understood trial period. I wonder who decided to eliminate that aspect of the tradition, and when... and why. That kind of trial aspect seems so necessary and reasonable and realistic and... smart. Such a granted period would probably be greatly beneficial to the dwindling state of the institution today. Perhaps cohabitation has replaced that trial period as the more modern version of the hand fast's first year?

Also interesting is that origin of the wedding cake you note:



...Bring Your Own Biscuits. The biscuits were then piled high and the higher the stack, the more wealthy and happy the couple would be. After the couple kissed over the top of the hill of cakes, the pieces were handed out among the poor.



There's a certan tragedy to the evolution and updating of these traditions that I'm noticing, because they lose their meaning the more removed they become from their origins. It's like reciting the "Pledge of Allegiance": we do it at moments deemed and understood as appropriate, facing the flag with our right hands over our hearts as we "should." But typically, there's little to no meaning in the words when we say them anymore--it's recitation simply because it's what we've been told we should do, and not necessarily because we understand, care, believe, or even register the words we speak.

It's the same with these traditions--the wedding cake emerged with such a specific and profound, heartfelt purpose but that purpose goes unnoted today in the quest for the prettiest, most grandiose x-tiered wedding cake that no reception is complete without. The actions are repeated without so much as acknowledgement of their original meaning--recitation with no regard, just as with The Pledge.

It all ties in very well to the lost idea and understanding of the institution of marriage itself in our society. The disregard and lack of understanding seems to carry over--again, the motions are repeated without sincere understanding of what they're all about, how it all began, and what it really means and requires. We've seen it and want it--that everlasting union that marriage supposedly represents--but now with no sincere understanding of it, and thus inadequate knowledge to understand how to handle or maintain it anymore, as we've lost touch with the roots of the institution.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Annotation of Two Sources

Cook, Elaine. “Commitment in Polyamory.” Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality. (2005). 12 February 2007 .

Context:

In the context of a society that traditionally considers monogamy the standard for relationships, Cook explores the value of ployamory as an alternative in which polyamorous couples engage in mutual agreement to allow for multiple lovers without betrayal to the connection and commitment to their original partners. It seems clear, to her, that our society's laws and pressures that aim to keep married couples together in spite of their differences has been decreasingly productive and successful in more recent years.

A member of a polyamorous relationship herself, Cook's study furthermore emerges in the context that not much academic research has been conducted on the subject thus far.


Main Idea:

Our society should not necessarily consider monogamy as the standard for relationships, but should instead understand and acknowledge it as a choice among many alternatives.

Methodology:

Cook interviewed each individual primary member of seven long-term polyamorous couples—together and actively polyamorous for at least 5 years, ages 29-72, living within 2 hours of Cook's northern San Francisco home--to determine trends in what factors, values, and approaches provide cohesion for long term polyamorous couples.

Her interview style utilized unstructured, open mode, general questioning, not necessarily phrased a particular way or asked in a particular order, like a survey.

Cook noted that the study does not even pretend to intend to explore views or perspectives of typical polyamorous relationships, but only on aspects that are successful. Cook's focus is intentionally on what works for such couples, and not at all on exploring any who've been unsuccessful at polyamorous engagements.

Major Findings:

No participants had the same level of intimacy with any secondary partners as with primary partners; but all did express desire for more intimacy, closeness, or emotional bond with their secondary partners.

Secondary encounters might be one-time events, short-term, and others were years-old. In one case, the primary and secondary partners became good friends and considered one another as like brothers.

Though each couple emphasized their own values in their respective means of maintaining their relationships, the common thread from couple to couple was that all were together because they wanted to be and because they gain joy and pleasure from the circumstances of their relationships despite occasional difficulties, and are thus willing to work hard to maintain these relationships.

Such a concept as "veto power" exists, to varying extents, in these relationships, allowing one primary partner to veto the other's relationship with a secondary partner, for a variation of reasons deemed acceptable.

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Larson, Jeffrey H., PhD. “Overcoming Myths About Marriage.” Marriage and Families. (2006). 12 February 2007 .

Context:

This article is motivated by the author's realization that many people embark upon their marriages with a drastic lack of education about the institution, and are thus completely unaware that the relationship they'd been in up until "I do," is about to change--but in quite predictable ways. Even in cases where a couple has previously lived together, spouses' expectations of one another change with the new status of their union.

Main Idea:

Marriages have an inevitable tendency to evolve from romantic love to companionate love, or friendship. All marriages undergo three stages: 1) Romantic love; 2) Disillusionment and distraction; and 3) Dissolution or adjustment with resignation or contentment.

Methodology:

The author broke down these three stages to explore further and offer advice regarding what to expect of a marriage. Then he proceeded to compile a list of common myths about the institution and debunk each. His findings seem to have basis in his own general observations in addition to some exploration of literature on the subject.

Major Findings:

The word "ecstasy" derived from a Greek word that means "deranged," and it is in this state that people get married, with romantic notions. they tend to base both their attractions and their marriages primarily on sexual, passionate, irrational, and physical attraction, which in turn yields unrealistic expectations of one another.

Among things partners must understand to foster a relationship are:

A partner will not automatically understand what his spouse wants without effective communication. Nagging is counterproductive in seeking to change a spouse's undesired behavior, but they can learn more effective ways, the better they know one another.

The more lovingly a spouse behaves, the more the loving behavior is reciprocated. Sometimes partners must do things for the sake of one another’s' happiness that they'd rather not, but in the name of compromise and reciprocation it's all worth it. The "50-50 rule" is counterproductive, and spouses should instead focus individually on doing as much for one another as they can, without keeping a tally.

Compassionate and altruistic love are just as important as romantic love in the preservation of a marriage. Marriage does not complete the two people it joins together. It can fulfill many of their needs, but other needs will still require other means and other sources of satisfaction. Partners should not depend on marriage for happiness in every aspect of life.

It is not always best for couples to keep their problems to themselves; it is perfectly okay and sometimes necessary to consult trusted outside parties for help.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Comment: IMAPP's 2/6/07 "Customs" Post

Read the original Customs article, for full context of the comment below:

It strikes me as profoundly interesting that love is considered such a strong factor in the marriages within this culture, and when there's so little choice involved for the man in his engagement. That love is understood to leap from the woman's heart into the chosen man's is such an oddly romantic concept--and it seems to remove a significant amount of conflict if this is the belief with no question and no uprising from the males, even in the duration of the union.

I just can't imagine such a custom in our own country: there would be a mad scramble for million dollar athletes and CEOs, and to remove choice from the realm of their possibility seems absurd... Does it thus become a matter of whomever gets to them first? Does this custom work in their culture because there's significantly less class variation, or no? If not, what would be the way of dealing with superficially driven engagements that had nothing, in fact, to do with love...?
It's amazing to me how difficult it is to wrap my American mind around such a concept as is their custom, as feasible. It sounds so grand, utopian, in a sense, with me being a woman and all--(well, if only I could actually prepare fish, it might be)--yet just so doggone impractical. I'm deeply intrigued.

It's so beautiful that in this institution love does play such a significant role, but actually serves the contruction rather than ultimately interfere with it in counterproductive ways as it seems to do with the understanding of marriage in our own culture.

It's even more intriguing that their divorce problem seems opposite that which arose in our own country's history--the more control a woman had in the institution, the more our divorce rate seemed to increase; but with this group, the men's increasing say seems responsible for the divorce increase.

And this also makes me wonder to what extent the women are actually considered as providers in their culture beyond building the house that their living in will make the marriage official, and whether men's understood lack of option puts him in a position to be subjective to any level of "abuse," if that makes sense, or whether they do live more or less "happily ever after".... particularly in comparison to us and our own understanding of the institution.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Intense Commitment vs. Divorce's Role in Ultimate Happiness: Annotated Results of a Study (#2)

Does Divorce Make People Happy? is a very interesting study of the effects of divorce on happiness compared to that of couples who remained together in attempt to resolve issues within their unhappy marriages. The findings are quite interesting and well-approached--probably the most scholarly approach to the subject at hand than any of the other resources I've noted this far.

The study was conducted by the Institute forAmerican Values, founded in 1987, which states is goal as serving to contribute to the renewal of civil society. The institue is widely praised, by many publications, professors, and politicians. David Blankenhorn, author of Fatherless America and numerous articles on family and civic issues, is the Institute's president and founder. Throughout his career, he has worked for numerous nonprofit and advocacy organizations.

The study itself was conducted by Linda Waite, a leading sociologist at the University of Chicago, leading a team of other family scholars.

This article linked above summarizes the conclusions of the study, which ultimately seems to indicate the significant value of sticking out the rougher times.

In confronting the "divorce assumption," that

a person in a bad marriage has two choices: stay married and miserable or get a divorce and become happier

the study showed

no evidence that unhappily married adults who divorced were typically any happier than unhappily married people who stayed married.


(One question that arose for me, in reading this was what constitutes a "bad marriage?")

But furthermore, according to the findings

Two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed married reported that their marriages were happy five years later.

This is surely a testament to the value of commitment. Marriage not just a matter of blind abidance--or the mere endurance of whatever agony the union may impose until death finally parts you--but is actually a matter of active responsibility and following through on the commitment and vows made that brings results, then. Or so it seems, based on this aspect of their conclusions.

So, yes working at it, or "making it work" has its place, but I'm wondering if it really resolves the issues that made this "bad marriage" bad.

Is it ever more that the people involved figure out make their peace with that bad element because they know they mean to stick it out lifelong, and may as well just get used to whatever it is they're unhappy with? I don't know, but I'm just wondering how much of this happiness that surfaces within that hypothetical five year span is actually in the name of resolution, genuine compromise, or just learning to endure something you'd still rather not deal with. And does this matter in the overall scheme of things? Does one or the other hold more value in the determination and validity of this "happiness" of which the researchers speak?


Another significant finding was that

average unhappily married adults who divorced were no happier than unhappily married adults who stayed married when rated on any of 12 separate measures of psychological well-being.

Furthermore, the researchers noted

Even unhappy spouses who had divorced and remarried were no happier on average than those who stayed married.



And finally, we arrive, from their conclusions, at an answer to my first question:

They found that many currently happily married spouses have had extended periods of marital unhappiness, often for quite serious reasons, including alcoholism, infidelity, verbal abuse, emotional neglect, depression, illness, and work reversals.


Thus

Marriages got happier not because partners resolved problems, but because they stubbornly outlasted them. With the passage of time, these spouses said, many sources of conflict and distress eased: financial problems, job reversals, depression, child problems, even infidelity.

So it's kind of like the learning curve idea, calling for a need to be mature enough to sustain the relationship even as things get worse in order to ever see them get better, as the oftenwill--according to this study's conclusions--given time and genuine mutual effort. So we must factor in to what extent a person's immediate happiness is important to them, versus their long-term happiness--and a person's decision to focus on either are perfectly valid, as far as I'm concerned.

But even all this said, at what point do we know the learning curve has spun out of control and really is approaching the limit of no up-side? At what point should a couple assume that it's actually never going to get better, and it's "safe" to give up and walk away from it? I'm thinking, given discussion in a previous post regarding marriage as eternally binding is that the answer is "never," once you've made that commitment. It's a drastic thing, requiring a massive amount of faith. Being married, truly, means you actually do not even resort to giving up, ever, as an option--and hopefully, this works out in all cases that the issues can be dealt with and overcome in a way that ultimately contributes to the overall happiness of all parties involved, even if not immediately.

The summary of the study finally poses the inevitable question

Were the marriages that ended in divorce much worse than those that did not? There is some evidence for this point of view. Unhappy spouses who divorced reported more conflict and were about twice as likely to report violence in their marriage than unhappy spouses who stayed married. However, marital violence occurred in only a minority of unhappy marriages . . .

On the other hand, if only the worst marriages ended up in divorce, one would expect divorce to be associated with important psychological benefits. Instead, researchers found that unhappily married adults who divorced were no more likely to report emotional and psychological improvements than those who stayed married.


Is this actually another argument that sticking it out possibly would have yielded greater effects in favor of later and long term happiness, in even the violent marriages that ended?


The most unhappy marriages reported the most dramatic turnarounds: among those who rated their marriages as very unhappy, almost eight out of 10 who avoided divorce were happily married five years later.

This would seem to indicate the latter, in answer to my question just above... And this, I'm not sure I appreciate. I have to decide how I feel about this indication, that perhaps even marriages on the abusive side could yield significant turnarounds toward happiness, with the passage of time. I agree with the possibility. But is it worth the risk?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Basic Sequence of Events: Emergences of the Church... then the State... then Love, in an Initially Pragmatic Institution

Date Unknown- The institution originates with pragmatic purposes...
The dates of the first "marriages" are uncertain, and it was not called "marriage" from the very beginning; but the institution emerged in ancient societies as a means of preserving our species in a secure system for reproduction, carrying on lineages, and determining property rights.

Date Unknown- Marriages are arranged between father and gift-bearing groom; no vows, love or courtship involved
The Old Testament of the Bible indicates that a prospective husband would bring gifts to win the approval of the father of the girl-of-choice before he asked to have her as a bride. To show the father's approval, the he would transfer her to the groom in public, the joined families would have a meal together, and the new husband would then take his bride home. At this point, there are no vows involved and not even a preacher present.

17 B.C.-476 A.D. - Roman Empire begins legalization and official recordings
During the Roman Empire, wealthy Romans wished to distinguish themselves and their marital unions from the lower classes and their common law marriages; so they had their unions legalized via signed documents listing property rights, beginning the legalization and official recording of marital unions that is required today.

17 B.C.-476 A.D. Romans originate the engagement ring, symbolizing the idea that marriage is foreverAllegedly, the ring's continuing circularity represents eternity, indicating the wearer to be in a neverending union.

mid-400s A.D. - Christian church takes interest in co-opting marriage, ending marriage as strictly a civil union
Christians begin having their ceremonies conducted by ministers.

527-565 A.D. - Marriages are regulated--people are no longer married simply by saying they are
The contitutions of the Roman emperors are compiled into the Justinian Code, regulating daily life, including marriage. Prior to this, marriage had simply been a verbal promise, called a "verbum," between the two to engage in such.

800s - Even more church involvement, at this point, with other religions also including blessings and prayers in the ceremony.
1100s - priests begin to formally require that an agreement be made in their presence, now defining marriage as sacremental.

1100s - Meanwhile, the concept of romance in courtship emerges with the troubadours, traveling musicians of the European High Middle Ages.

1200s - Churches blessed English upper class weddings, making them religious events, but without a legal commitment.

1300s - Only now does the term marriage evolve from the French term "marier," meaning "to marry."

1500s - Protestant Reformation designates the record-keeping and rule-setting of marriages to the state.

1563 - Council of Trent officially decrees that Catholic marriages were to be held with a priest and at least two witnesses. Prior to this, it had been common for marriages to take place with neither witnesses or formal ceremonies. At this point, love is still irrelevent to the institution, which was seen primarily as having the purpose of ensuring procreation, while saving men and women from the religious sin of fornification by making marriage a required prerequisite for socially-condoned sex.

Late 1500s - Colonial North America passed laws allowing an option between religious marriages and state-regulated civil marriages.
For the most part, they carried on European traditions, but some Colonists wanted only a civil union and not a religious one, and so passed laws allowing such. To this day, a choice between civil and religious marriages is allowed in Europe and America.

1600s - Now the state is heavily involved in most Protestant European countries' marriages

1660 - Love becomes a factor.
With the Puritans, three tendencies emerged regarding the institution of marriage:

1) love became a factor
2) marriage became commonplace
3) marriage was extremely committed

1700s - By now, weddings are widely considered as religious events throughout all European countries.
And there we have it... now religion, the law, AND love are all heavily intermingled within the originally solely civil and pragmatic institution....

And thus, a correction:
It seems, actually, that last comes love...

Sources:

http://www.sexscrolls.net/marriage.html

http://marriage.about.com/cs/generalhistory/a/marriagehistory.htm

http://ks.essortment.com/historyofmarri_rimr.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Comment on post, "Thoughts on Marriage"

The original post can be found here: http://jon.limedaley.com/plog/archives/2007/01/17/thoughts-on-marriage

The following is my (rather longwinded, I apologize) comment on it:

You make some excellent points about what marriage IS and IS NOT.

"The love that makes marriage work is not a feeling of love. If it was, then feelings come and go and so would marriage. Marriage love is a DECISION to value the other person as highly as yourself...."


You later talk about 'true love,' and that, to me, is an ideal--and not the element of the type of love a marriage demands, in spite of the often evanescent feeling, as you were describing it.

"BUT that is not true love. Love is self-giving. That is, when it does not benefit yourself and only the other person you still do it."


The love you were describing is more accurately defined as "unconditional love," I'd think, though. The connotation that the term "true love" holds is a bit more idealistically sappy and romantic--a love that does incorporate that feeling and transcends that agreement involved in maintaining a marriage. Within that ideal, that feeling of love does persist forever, it never does fade. Who am I to be bold and declare it unnattainable? I won't do that here, although I've been guilty of it before. (Sometimes I can be a bit extreme.) But to be more accurate, it'd probably suffice to say it is rare, if not impossible. So even in its absence, a married party is obligated by the vows they took to make it work anyway. That's only part of why this marriage thing is risky business.

I do admire that, and I respect it. But I don't want it. I want to be free to abide by my whims, acknowledge a situation for what it is, and act in accordance with that as I go, aware that at any moment, it could all change. A marriage, however, demands the dismissal of such whims in the name of mutual agreement to forever, no matter what. And that "no matter what" business is quite a bit of pressure--far too much for me. Some call that commitment-phobic. I don't mind.

That said, I do believe there's something to be said for the validity of other types of love aside from unconditional. That missing element does not necessarily make love less true, (to me, that is--I understand that idea could seem ridiculous and take a bit of arguing, but I'll leave it at that anyway.) It just makes the love unsuitable for the sustenance of a marriage. The quest for true love and the pursuit of a successful marriage are quite arguably drastically different things, as you insinuated:

"People think you get married just because you are in love."


And I love the summing up of marriage as a vow "... to never give up on each other."
This is a big dang deal. This is nothing to be taken lightly. Many in our society have forgotten that, and the problem lies in that we as a society continually fail to make that distinction as our fascination with falling in love grows.

Don't get me wrong--as I was getting at before, there's definitely something to be said for the feeling of love and allowing relationships to grow out of that. But, as you emphasis, this is not what a marriage depends on, and should thus not be used as the basis of its survival.

There's even something to be said for being selfish, I believe. It's been a personal declaration of mine for years that I never want to get married because I very consciously want the freedom to remain selfish. I'm a self-proclaimed serial monogamist who sincerely believes that "it" works as long as "it" works and who has no desire to push anything any further than that. Enjoy it for what it is while it is, and for what it was when it's gone, but when it's gone, move on. This is inaccordance with the feeling of love. I'm a fan of it, fickle as it may be.

Many people take this serial-monogamist approach, but are not so honest or self-aware to acknowledge that they're doing so. That is, many enter into a union based on little more than the feeling of love, in the hopes that this ideal will be sustained for all eternity and that it is this that will make thier marriage work. But no feeling can accomplish that--just as you stated--only a significant amount of work and drastic level of dedication and committment can. But out society has become one who gives up and parts ways when that feeling does not suffice, and this is where we've gone wrong in calling this union and that a marriage, all willy-nilly: When we consider that a defining component of marriage is that all-important "forever" requirement, a marriage that ends was never a marriage to begin with. Is that fair to conclude?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Introduction to My Interest and Intent

Even when my own parents seemed happy together, I had a hard time making sense of the institution of marriage. There's always been something a bit suspicious about the whole gimmick. Something about monogamy and human nature has never seemed to add up, and I wish to begin an investigation into the history and evolution of marriage in the hopes of putting my finger on just what that "something" is.

From my understanding, marriage began as a practical engagement that had nothing to do with love or romance or religion, or even the law, necessarily, but basically served as the most convenient means of preserving the human race, carrying on lineage, and passing on property and wealth.

In its beginning, if a couple simply said to one another, "We are married," then it was so. Now one needs witnesses and a license, as the union does not count unless recognized by God and the government.

In its beginning, a bachelor would simply make an offering to a father and would thus be granted one of his daughters to marry and provide for. Now, there is a notion of needing years of searching and courting to find and fall in love with "The One" first--which, it seems, rarely happens.

I strongly suspect that these and other evolutions that marriage has undergone over the centuries have done more than many of us care to realize to complicate a once quite simple situation.

My aim is to decipher what happened in-between to incite such evolutions to the institution--why the aspects of marriage and its role in society that have changed have changed, and why the aspects that remain the same have remained the same.

And from there, I aim to form a more informed opinion regarding the validity of the institution in the context of our current society, especially among its variations and alternative forms such as polygamy, group marriage, gay marriage, serial monogamy, Boston marriage, common-law marriage, covenant marriage, and many others.

My theory, pre-investigation (or, my uninformed opinion):

Marriage "worked," historically, because it had to. (Unfortunately), a woman rarely had much say in who she wound up with, held a blatatly established subservient role within the union, and tended to have no way out, or even a way to survive if she were for some reason tossed out. Love had little, if anything, to do with it.

However, as women became a bit more independent, over time, our culture came to regard marriage as less of a necessity and more of a mere economic strategy (as far as the most logical way to pool incomes and successfully raise a family)--and eventually even less of that than the acknowledgement of the undying love between to people.

This is where the problem comes in. Love, in the romantic sense, does tend to die, sometimes peaceful deaths, sometimes quite horrendous ones--but die nevertheless. I'll go so far as to say this is not always the case, but it is so often enough for "true love" to concern me as the primary basis upon which a society's worth of people (cl)aim to maintain an eternal union. Marriage only "works" if the couple is true to the vows it declared and sticks together anyway, beyond the faded romance. It's the classic internal struggle between practicality and passion, and there's something to be said for either. However, marriage is not for the passionate, but for the practical, and that "love" thing is something altogether different.

I have nothing against marriage, per se. I have nothing against the pusuit of true love. But I am very much against the assumption that the two are necessarily and directly related to one another. From what I've observed they're two different pursuits.

Yet people with either motivation take the exact same vows and violate them with no regard.

Thus, I propose, at the very least, that an ambitious couple not blindly and irresponsibly promise to forever uphold a set of vows that have nothing at all to do with them. People should take that option to write their own vows a bit more seriously, and sit down and very honestly and realistically consider what they can offer and what they absolutely must have in return so that there is no misunderstanding when they join in the name of "forever."

Speaking on this, I realize that I sound like the ultimate cynic and bitter spinster, and this is why I must research this subject. I must know to what extent my suspicions are warranted, and to what extent I simply enjoy attacking the masses, with little motivation.