Universal marriage

Here’s an astounding fact, from a LRB review of Between Sex and Power: Family in the World 1900-2000 by Göran Therborn: “In 1960, 70 percent of American women aged between 20 and 24 were married, as against 23 percent in 2000.” The rapid drop-off must be disorienting and frightening in some ways to those who experienced those days of near universal marriage — what a pitch of social control there must have been, how codified must have been so many interactions that are much more nebulous now. Marriage is now clearly a decision that’s postpones until one’s thirties: part of this is extension of the post-adolescent drift period and part of this due to more women having careers of their own and having those careers taken seriously. The tenaciousness of the cultural Right seems to have a lot to do with this fact, with their memories insisting that such a thing is possible, a world where everyone marries at 21 and subjects themselves to the social and juridical control of their personal lives that marriage constitutes. When bigots argue marriage must be protected from homosexuals, it seems paradoxical, because gay couples adopting the marriage standard would only help secure marriage’s faltering grip over the lives of Americans. The more copupls who marry, the more likely marriage will survive as a integral social concept. But the Right must believe that homosexual marriages cheapen the sacrament and encourage straight couples not to bother — if marriage is no longer about enforcing rules about what a woman can or can’t do, then as far as they are concerned, it’s not really marriage anymore. Gay marriages between men obviously throw that standard out the window, and that’s why the considered a “threat” to marriage.

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