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Jewish World Review
June 28, 2013/ 20 Tammuz, 5773
Marriage has long been blowing in the wind
What with all the loud commentary surrounding this week's landmark Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage, let's be real: We've been changing our definition of marriage for a long time in this country.
For decades, heterosexual marriage itself has been morphing into an adult-centered/pleasure-based and transitory institution, as opposed to being about children, community and the ideal of lifelong sexual fidelity and commitment, no matter what. So impact on gay marriage aside, the high court's decisions may have ultimately been about playing catch-up with the culture when it comes to marriage as a whole.
Just days before the rulings were released, Meghan Laslocky spoke to this very change in her CNN.com piece, "Face it: Monogamy is Unnatural." Laslocky is author of "The Little Book of Heartbreak: Love Gone Wrong Through the Ages" (Plume/Penguin 2013). Her point is that it's not natural for a member of the animal kingdom to want to pair off, exclusively and for life, with the same partner. Our desire for sexual variety will often trump that, she says, so we need to find new ways for marriage to thrive with that understanding. She feels that observing how rare monogamy is among animals in general can guide our thinking about what is realistic for humans.
Laslocky, who herself has a husband and a son, wrote on CNN.com: "It's time for our culture to wake up and smell the sex pheromones: monogamy is not natural for many, or probably even most, humans."
I decided to find out a little more. I wondered about her own marriage, and what the rules were. Laslocky was very transparent with me, sharing via email: "To be honest, we (she and her husband) don't have the time to pursue serious romantic relationships with other people. That said, we both respect the fact that we have many years yet together, we don't know what the future holds and we have a deep and abiding respect for each other and the fact that relationships, even committed ones, are mutable." Laslocky explained to me that she and her husband did not promise fidelity to each other in their secular marriage ceremony, or that it would be lifelong.
Now that's a redefinition of marriage! At least, they were honest. What is true for their marriage, that it's "mutable," is true for how our culture views marriage. We are just typically not as forthcoming about it.
But the fact remains: In the U.S., marriage is increasingly fluid to the extent that it occurs at all, becoming what we feel it should be in the moment, versus being about something bigger -- children, community and lifelong commitment -- whatever our feelings might be.
This meets Laslocky's point -- that we need to be free to act on our instincts because that is "natural." But, of course, for most of us it's also "natural" to be selfish or to lie, or to yell at our kids. Thankfully, one of the many things separating mankind from animals is that we have the ability to (begin ital) abstain (end ital) from acting on our desires of the moment, for all sorts of good reasons, even when that's difficult.
Many of my like-minded friends support traditional, lifelong and fidelitous marriage -- and, yes, only between a man and a woman. They want it to remain understood as such because ultimately, they say, it's about what is best for children. Yes, the data is clear, that children thrive better when their parents are married and living together. When they have a mom and a dad and the different things men and women bring to parenting, together in one home. So when marriage in general becomes adult-/pleasure-based, as it has been for decades in our culture, many fewer couples will stay together and provide that for their children. We've watched this trend have devastating consequences.
But lifelong, committed, sexually faithful marriage, I'm convinced, also benefits the adults involved -- not least of all because it's not, well, "natural." It calls us to something so much better than our instincts and desires. It calls us to the giving, the sacrificing, the joy that come with such marriages. And it connects us to community in a way that just connecting "me" to "me" can't do.
The court decisions this week have wide-ranging implications for gay unions and for our culture. Understood. But in the midst of sorting this all out, it's important to recognize the larger trend in marriage. That, in many ways, the high court has just ratified what is already increasingly true of marriage in the U.S. in general: That whoever the participants, it's about "me" most of all.
In other words, those of us who really care about the demise of marriage in our culture will have to look far beyond this week's court decisions to save it.
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