Meaning of Marriage

MARRI Interns

Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart has sparked a remarkable conversation about growing inequality in American culture. The upper and lower classes – or “Belmont” and “Fishtown” – “diverge in core beliefs and values,” which, in turn, begets a divergence in the role of marriage in society, as previously discussed on this blog. An article entitled “For Richer (Not for Poorer): The Inequality Crisis of Marriage” appeared in The Atlantic this week, continuing the discussion of growing class divergence in marriage rates. Author Nancy Cook argues that the economic consequences of increasing intermarriage among Belmont-dwellers and declining marriage rates in Fishtown could continue to sow the seeds of inequality. “Then consider the impact on the next generation,” she urges. “Well-educated, wealthy Americans will have more resources to spend on their children’s education, health, and enrichment; low-income people can offer fewer opportunities to help their offspring get ahead.”
Because, in Cook’s words, Americans are no longer “starry-eyed about marriage as an aspiration,” increasingly the definition of the institution becomes more obscured. What is marriage for, anyway? David and Amber Lapp went into Fishtown to ask this very question for Public Discourse. The majority of responses cited a subjective feeling of happiness or a “spark” with little consideration for permanence, service, or even children. Curiously, marriage was still considered to be a solemn, almost sacred, institution that should not be entered into lightly. “It is not out of disdain for marriage that working-class young adults delay marriage and begin families,” the Lapps write, “but out of reverence for it as something that ought not be broken.”

Marriage then becomes an empty set: it should not be entered into lightly, but what is it a couple is entering in the first place? While research from the Marriage and Religion Research Institute has demonstrated that marriage does have a positive effect on happiness, it appears this cannot realistically be the ultimate purpose of the institution if it is to last. Nevertheless, a number of the responses the Lapps received can be found in marriage, as MARRI’s 162 Reasons to Marry suggests. A reexamination of the meaning of marriage could help Fishtown out of its economic and social doldrums.

3 thoughts on “Meaning of Marriage

  1. MeghanS

    and isn't is wonderful that so many same-sex couples wish to enter marriage for love, commitment and yes, those of us who have children – for the protection of our children

  2. Mitch Wood

    For truthful and full disclosure, Mr. Fagan, you should note that, according to Rick Sincere, writing in the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, Mr. Murray no longer buys into the Family Research Council's anti-gay fearmongering regarding extending the right of civil marriage to gay and lesbian couples:

    "Appearing February 22 on “The Schilling Show,” a Charlottesville talk-radio program, conservative social scientist Charles Murray stated that the advocacy of gay marriage is “not a big deal” with regard to the general decline of marriage in American society. Murray also explained how his own attitude toward same-sex marriage has changed over time. . . . Murray replied that “the advent of the gay marriage movement and the rest of that, I’m inclined to think, is not a big deal.”

    He pointed out that, “for one thing, a lot of the rhetoric surrounding the advocacy for gay marriage has been that here are people who want to make a solemn commitment to each other. Writers like Jonathan Rauch and others have made very compelling cases for [how] gays want to engage in this very important social institution.”

    A person, he said, does not “have to agree with that to think that, in a way, the visibility of marriage has been raised by that movement, not necessarily denigrated.”

    “I have never,” he said, “made a public statement about that before, but the fact is this: My wife and I have maybe half a dozen friends who are gay and are in couples. I mean they’re marriage-like situations. Some of them are guys and some of them are gals. In all of those cases, they’re acting like married people. They appear to have loving, faithful relationships that they take very seriously.”

    More than that, he added, “a couple of them have kids that they are as attentive [to] and loving of as any other parents, and so I say to myself, I still have real problems with using the word marriage for anything except a union which has as its main purpose child-bearing and so forth.”

    Still, he explained, “on the other hand, it’s really made me rethink the nature of my opposition, because let’s face it: Heterosexuals have made a mess out of marriage in the last couple of decades — the last half-century, actually — in ways which leave us in a weak position to suddenly say, ‘Oh, this wonderful institution that we’ve done so well with, you’re trying to interfere with.’”

    As a result, Murray said, “I have backed off from leading the fight against gay marriage or even participating in it, and I’m willing to say that this is one instance in which [a new idea is] working out better than I would have expected it to, as I see it.”

    Charlottesville Libertarian |

  3. Mr. Wonderful

    Marriage equality has been the law of the land in my home country, Canada, since 2005. None of the GLOOM & DOOM scenarios portrayed by NOM, the FRC or any of the other anti-gay groups have come to fruition. If anything the marriage is stronger than ever.


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