David Blankenhorn’s important new book, The Future of Marriage makes clear that the social issue of our time is not whether marriage will be “expanded” to include same sex couples. The real issue is whether marriage as an institution will be so emptied of meaning that it becomes a gender neutral institution, rather than the premier gender-based institution of society. This isn’t fundamentally about gay people. The issue is marriage: what marriage is, and what it does for society. Blankenhorn argues convincingly that marriage bereft of gender can not perform the social functions that marriage universally performs: marriage attaches children with their fathers and mothers and fathers and mothers to each other.
I came up with a definition of marriage. Marriage is society’s preferred context for both sexual activity and child-rearing. The point of this definition is that marriage is intrinsically about “privileging” some forms of sexual activity over others, and some arrangements for child-rearing over others. The new modern idea of “de-institutionalizing” marriage is that society positively ought not express any legal, social or moral preference for any sexual or child-bearing arrangements over others. The drive for legally describing the unions of same sex couples as marriage is part of this overall movement to de-institutionalize marriage.
But de-institutionalizing marriage means there is no such thing as marriage, by definition. “The institution formerly known as marriage,” will henceforth be a hollowed-out shell of its former self. Nothing but the name remains. Marriage gives social approval to my relationship with my super-dooper, extra-special best friend with benefits. Left unanswered is the question of why in the world society should care.
David Blankenhorn answers the question of why societies not only should care about marriage, but what they have universally cared about when they create the institution. Originally trained in history, Blankenhorn takes a masterful journey through the meaning of marriage across times and places. Here is Blankenhorn’s more detailed definition of marriage:
Marriage is socially approved sexual intercourse between a man and a woman conceived both as a personal relationship and as an institution, primarily such that any children resulting from the union are– and are understood by society to be– emotionally, morally, practically, and legally affiliated with both of the parents.
Even in societies that tolerate pre-marital sex, permit polygamy, or take a relaxed approach to divorce, the basic idea of marriage across time and cultures does not change: for every child, a mother and a father. In spite of all the variations around the world in kinship systems and marriage rules, age at first marriage and rules of consent, some constants recur. Human societies strive to have children affiliated with both their biological parents. The mother and child unit has universally been considered incomplete, and the sociological position of the father considered indispensable. Universally, that is, up until the last generation in modern western societies.
Marriage is also about sex, not just about friendship. Sexual exclusivity within marriage is the near constant expectation. Adultery is the number one cause of divorce, world-wide. People the world over experience sexual infidelity as devastating. No amount of pro-promiscuity propaganda, or pro-adultery TV programs will change that basic tendency of the human condition. Our opinion-making elites who long for the withering away of monogamy are kidding themselves.
The public opinion-making elites of this country have pretty much decided that same sex marriage is a moral imperative. They believe there are no respectable arguments for preserving marriage as a gender-based social institution. The great American unwashed resist the innovation of same sex marriage only because of hate-filled ignorance or fundamentalist religion, which are interchangeable in the minds of the elite.
That is why you have heard so little about David Blankenhorn’s new book, The Future of Marriage. Even the human interest story in USA Today was about David, and not his ideas. Blankenhorn makes a reasoned case, independent of any religious belief, for marriage as intrinsically a union between opposite sex couples. No one can read this book and believe that only the ignorant or spiteful oppose same sex marriage. An honest engagement with the arguments of this book reveals sophisticated and compelling arguments in favor of marriage.
Whether you are convinced by Blankenhorn’s arguments or not, the arguments deserve to be considered. The elites hope to kill this book by ignoring it. Don’t let them. Buy the book. Read it. Share it with others. We need to have an honest discussion about the meaning and The Future of Marriage.