Having a Conversation About Marriage

The ongoing marriage debates in our culture right now make me want to wave a flag and hide in the corner at the same time. I’ve talked before about this shifting conversation, and I think that shift is only speeding up. Even the Pope seems to be allowing that some form of civil union should be considered.

Many traditional marriage supporters may be wondering what’s happening as the ground shifts beneath them. That’s understandable. But from my admittedly biased perspective, it seems like the traditional marriage folks have clung to a dogma without having a real conversation. Again and again they talk about how they were for marriage, not against it, and were defending marriage from all the crazy redefinition that would include gays.

The problem with that is I never saw an actual conversation about what marriage is and how it’s working and not working. They would chant “one man and one woman” and ignore all the mess of collapsing marriages. People get divorced all the time. It’s not ’til death to us part,’ it’s ’til we no longer feel like it. I think that’s an important reality that’s been absent in the traditional marriage conversation.

I’m not saying that marriage is broken therefore the traditional marriage argument is broken as well. What I am saying is that you have people defending this picture of marriage that’s no longer accurate, and honestly hasn’t been for some time. There’s something empty about that, and I suspect it has something to do with the cultural shift we’re seeing.

So those thoughts are rolling around in my head thanks to a conversation about marriage between Dan Savage and Andrew Sullivan, two married gay guys talking about marriage. That’s probably enough to make any traditional marriage supporter’s head explode. I get that. But it’s an interesting conversation, exploring what marriage has been and how the current “opt-in” nature of marriage is a good thing (i.e., people get divorced all the time, so the marriages that remain are strong and true, not marriages where spouses feel trapped).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think traditional marriage supporters made a mistake in defending something that doesn’t really exist as they were defending it. Instead of arguing about who can get married, I think we’d be better served by talking about why people get married. We’re not very good at commitment these days, but it’s kind of at the heart of marriage.

I see two things potentially happening:

1. Gay people like Dan and Andrew are going to become the experts on marriage because they’re willing to talk about the realities that conservatives don’t seem to get. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, though I can see how that also might make people’s heads explode. Seriously: Gay people are waving the flag of marriage right now. That’s kind of different.

2. Fewer straight people are getting married, they wait longer and they get divorced more. We’re not treating marriage like the sacred institution we claim it is. If we don’t find a way to talk about marriage honestly and start improving things, I think all these gay people eager to get married will sadly join those straight people getting divorced. I don’t want that to happen to anyone, but I’m afraid it’s a possibility. Marriage seems to be crumbling and if we don’t figure out a way to fix it, all these gay people getting married might be as doomed as the rest of us.

I’m not sure if I’m saying what I want to say here (this feels very much like a ranty, talk to get things out of my head post like I used to write a decade or more ago). I guess my bottom line is that I think somebody needs to start actually defending marriage. Not defending some ideal we don’t live up to, but talk honestly about abuse and cheating and divorce and all the things that can muck up families. Help us figure that stuff out so we can get better.

I guess I want someone to start MarriageSucks.com

I’d do it, but I think Ishould only write for one [Something]Sucks.com at a time.

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