Why Marriage Is A Dying Institution

Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist writing for FoxNews.com, says, ‘I can’t help looking askance at anything that depletes energy, optimism, mood and passion to the extent that marriage does. It is, without a doubt, one of the leading causes of major depression in the nation.’

He goes on to name four reasons why, in his professional opinion, marriage is, and arguably should be, a dying institution.

‘First, the involvement of the state in marriage has been a colossal mistake. The granting of marriage licenses by government debases an institution which is actually the proper domain of churches, temples and other entities focused on God and Spirit.’

I don’t know how valuable ‘God and Spirit’ have been for romantic happiness, but I do agree that state involvement in marriage has been a colossal mistake. For centuries, women were property and since they could not own property themselves, marriage was a way for a man to own them. Women had no choice other than to rush into marriage as a way to survive in life.

Nowadays, thanks to the advances of capitalism and technology in Western cultures, just the opposite exists. Women, after divorce, are entitled to at least half of what men earn, even though men usually (by no means always) earn more than women. Women are by law entitled to this despite the fact they can now own property, work in virtually any profession and even serve in the military. Women’s individual rights have progressed at warp speed, but they’re still treated, under the law, like helpless widows in times of olde who must be catered to by society. Also, women are usually if not always entitled to primary custody rights of children, giving them even more access to the husband’s income in the name of ‘child support.’

In short, government laws applied to marriage are nothing more than a way for either men to enslave women (as in eras past) or for women to enslave men, as is much more often the case today. Every man knows that no matter how happily married he might be, any woman he loves can wield this power against him any time she chooses.

Dr. Ablow argues, ‘The government, in fact, should have no role in marriage, whatsoever. There should be no income tax distinction between married and single people.’ Correct. There should be no income tax (particularly progressive income tax) in the first place, but that’s a separate discussion. Government gets involved in these matters because certain people in society want to control the attitudes and behaviors of others. Conservatives routinely use income tax laws to impose their idea of marriage, while liberals routinely use income tax laws to impose different forms of social policy on people. Each seeks to make his or her viewpoint the dominant one in the society by the force of law. Ultimately, it cannot work and should never have been tried. The only ‘marriage law’ that should exist is the voluntarily and legally entered contract between the two people, based on terms they each understand and to which they freely consent. Government has no business defining or setting these terms for them.

Dr. Ablow asserts, ‘A second reason marriage is a dying institution is the invention of oral contraception. Once human beings understood that they could express themselves emotionally, romantically and sexually without necessarily creating multiple families and perilously dividing their assets, the psychological pain of living without sexual passion (even by choice) was significantly intensified.’

Very true. In fact, this is why social conservatives are so against abortion. It’s not that they necessarily think abortion is murder. It’s the fact that legal and medically safe abortions ensure that sex between a man and a woman can forever be about personal fulfillment, and nothing whatsoever about reproduction. This idea makes some social conservatives crazy. It has been said that a Puritan is a person who cannot stand the idea that somewhere, at some time, somebody is having fun. Similarly, a ‘pro-life’ activist is someone who cannot tolerate the fact that somebody, somewhere at some time is actually having sex without any intention whatsoever of ever raising a family. (That’s one reason why these same activists call themselves ‘pro-family.’)

Dr. Ablow continues, ‘The third reason marriage is a dying institution is because it inherently deprives men and women of the joy of being ‘chosen’ on a daily basis.’

Well put. I’ve said it before, in this very column. The idea of ‘the institution of marriage’ is like having a job from which you cannot be fired. ‘Well, I’m married,’ is how some people feel. ‘I’m entitled to what I want.’ Or, ‘This is my wife,’ or, ‘This is my husband,’ people will say, in counseling sessions with me or elsewhere. So? And that entitles you to what, exactly? Honesty? Sure. But you’re entitled to that from friends. You’re entitled to that from romantic partners to whom you’re not legally married. But just because you get married, you’re not suddenly entitled to your spouse—by virtue of marriage, and marriage alone— becoming the person you want him or her to be, even if he or she cannot be or chooses not to be what you want.

Marriage is not an excuse for controlling people or engaging in magical thinking. Yet that’s how many people approach it, and it’s the primary reason, in my experience, why most people divorce. ‘I can’t control you. So I’m out of here.’ From my experience, this makes marriage as we know it, and the way most people approach it, not only an outdated institution, but a sick one.

‘Fourth, our collective experience with marriages failing in such great numbers is itself one of the reasons the institution is dying. No one likes being part of a group of hypocrites.’ Interesting point. It’s also interesting that the cost of weddings is going up. The current generation of young men and women risk bankrupting their families to spend tens of thousands of dollars on fairy tale-like wedding days. Amazing. Even in a Great Recession, the demand for high cost weddings is going so high that it rivals medical care and higher education for its level of inflation.

What is it that these young people are seeking? My interpretation is that it’s the last gasp at the trappings of an outdated institution. These young, marrying couples know full well that there’s at least a fifty percent chance that they will no longer be united with their beloved in another ten or twenty years. But they’d rather not think about it, so spending a fortune on a ceremony is an effective way to not have to think about it.

Expensive weddings that people cannot afford make me think of the final hours of the Titanic. You might as well indulge in the trappings of the institution of marriage, along with the fantasy, because the concept as we know it is sinking and will soon be gone.

None of this is to knock the honest and chosen commitment that often rises out of genuine romantic love. Love, properly defined and honestly experienced, is one of the greatest things there is in human experience. What I am knocking here is the idea that you can hide behind the trappings, hypocrisy or general self-deceit of an ‘institution’ that has so clearly gone awry. Indeed, it had to go awry from the nature of its own hypocritical contradictions. The fact that we refer to marriage as an ‘institution’ should give you a clue right there as to its inherent sustainability and sanity.

Human beings, by inventing marriage as we know it, put the cart before the horse. They invented a model for codifying love before they figured out what romantic love actually is.

People should get the love part right first, and then move on to the means for structuring and treasuring it. And government should leave them free and responsible for doing so.