November 22, 2003

The Power of Contingency Plans

Today marriage is in crisis. Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. Worse, in some circles, marriage is not even expected. Men and women shack up for a while, produce children and then float off to shack up with someone else.

Marriage is in crisis because marriage, which relies on a culture of fidelity, is now asked to survive in a culture of contingency. Today, individual choice is held up as the highest value: choice of lifestyles, choice of identities, choice of cellphone rate plans. Freedom is a wonderful thing, but the culture of contingency means that the marriage bond, which is supposed to be a sacred vow till death do us part, is now more likely to be seen as an easily canceled contract.

David Brooks is assuming his morals apply to me. They do not.

Crisis An unstable condition, as in political, social, or economic affairs, involving an impending abrupt or decisive change.

Marriage is not in crisis. An individuals marriage may be in crisis. David Brooks marriage may be in crisis, mine certainly was. But the state of marriage is not in crisis. You could just as accurately say that divorce is in crisis because there are so many marriages out there.

Marriage is a contract. It may be a contract of souls for some people. Others still may view it as a financial boon for child rearing. It may build power within an extended family or business or church. A true marriage may, for some, be an acceptance of God and self in an orgy of child rearing and domesticity.

But before all of that sincere hoopla people put themselves through, it is at base, a contract.

David thinks he's clever by hoisting his monotheism on us.

We're moral creatures with souls, endowed with the ability to make covenants, such as the one Ruth made with Naomi: "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried."

So romantic.

It's going to be up to conservatives to make the important, moral case for marriage, including gay marriage.

Oooh don't throw me in the briar patch!

UPDATE David E's got the contingency plans.

Posted by filchyboy at November 22, 2003 08:34 PM | TrackBack


I wrote him a nasty letter about this one. Here it is:

"Your people aren't talking about marriage being about commitment (nor are many of them living it, for that matter, since the rate of divorce is the same for conservatives and liberals); they are talking about it as a religious covenant. THIS is the actual difference between us. I am a monogamous, married woman who believes gays and lesbians should have the right to marry. I don't think they should have this right purely for civil rights or economic reasons (though both of those are valid), but because they should have the same rights as me to exercise their private lives however they choose. It's not about religion, it's not about politics. It's about equality. They should have the same right as me to marry, love each other openly, disagree, and even GOD FORBID get divorced. That's equality.

Take marriage out of the Christian context, please. That is the only way your people will agree to allow gay marriage. They are trapped in a biblical quagmire that no amount of arguing over civil rights, "commitment," or economic parity will resolve."

Of course he'll never read it, and it wouldn't matter if he did. I think the whole thing demonstrates why the means are important no matter what the "end" is. I agree with where he ends up, but I hate how he gets there.

My mom says conservatives "can't enjoy anything unless they know someone else can't have it, even marriage!" That pretty much sums it up, I guess.

Posted by: kate at November 23, 2003 10:08 PM

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