Late Friday night New York State became the sixth state to pass a law allowing same sex marriage. Its easy to understand why so many people consider this a civil rights victory and an affirmation of homosexual equality. But theres still one puzzle: whats the big deal about marriage?
After all, we often hear that marriage is “dead,” or at any rate on its last legs. The media is filled with stories of how Americans have moved on from the days of “Ozzie and Harriet,” or “Father Knows Best,” two iconic 1950s television shows about mom, dad, and their 2.4 kids. There are frequent reports about how married couples make up fewer than half of all households. Probably one of the best known statistics in America is that half of all marriages end up in divorce court.
We read all the time about the over forty percent of children are born to single mothers, most of whom do not go on to marry their childs father. Record high numbers of people live together with no intention of walking down the aisle. High profile celebrities –whom many people think of as are role models – are known to shrug at the whole husband-wife thing. Cameron Diaz was asked recently in an interview whether she thought marriage was on its way out; “I do. I think we have to make our own rules. I dont think we should live our lives in relationships based off of old traditions that dont suit our world any longer.”
So the question remains: given the ragged condition of marriage, why have American gays and lesbians been so invested in it?
Well, because gays know something that Cameron Diaz doesnt. Unlike a lot of other modern countries, Americans are very, very big on tying the knot and its not just because they like fancy dresses. The percentage of the population ever married has declined some in the past decades, but it is still 80%. Thats just about everyone. Theres no reason to think that the coming generation is going to do things very differently. In surveys, teens and young adults consistently say they view marriage as a very important life goal. (See: here, here, and here. ) The major reason we have a smaller percentage of households with married couples is not because people are giving up on the institution but because 1. they are living longer, leading to a much larger population of older folks, mainly women, living alone. And 2, men and women are getting married much later than they did in years past. If they can possibly afford it, those singles move out of the family home to live alone or with roommates. Hence, more households without married couples.
What makes Americans like marriage so much? A lot of people say its because we are a religious society. I have another theory. Americans still love marriage because more than other people, they need to put down roots. As a nation, we have a bad case of ADD. According to the historian James Jasper, we “change our residence, on average, once every five years—more often than any other culture except nomadic tribes.” He goes on:
“In an average year, almost one out of five Americans moves. More than a third of these move to a different county. Roughly 3 percent of Americans move to a new state. That may not sound like much, but thats in a single year, and over time these moves add up. Few Americans spend their lives in the same city or town, and almost none stay in the same house, street, or neighborhood. In a typical five-year period, only about half the population (53 percent) is living in the same place at the end as at the beginning.”
For all its disappoints, then, marriage still strikes most Americans as the best hope for creating permanent connections. The fact that it doesnt work out that way for so manycouples doesnt change the longing people have to feel like they belong somewhere with someone. They suspect living together is not the same thing, and theyre right; cohabiters break up at a far higher rate than married couples.
Gays are like other Americans. They may be restless, but they still hope to settle down. And it means a lot to them.
Original Source: http://blogs.forbes.com/kayhymowitz/2011/06/27/why-do-people-want-to-get-married-anyway/