Couples: State of Our Unions - 3/004
Smart Marriages ®
cmfce at smartmarriages.com
Sun Feb 29 18:44:58 EST 2004
subject: Couples: State of Our Unions - 3/004
from: Smart Marriages®
Couples: State of Our Unions
If marriage is in trouble, don't blame gays. Straights changed the rules
No rush down the aisle: Increasingly, couples are choosing to have
children outside of wedlock
By Barbara Kantrowitz
March 1, 2004
Amber Settle, a 35-year-old associate professor of
computer science at DePaul University in Chicago, is eight months
pregnant and unmarried. Not so long ago, that would have been
downright scandalous. But Settle and Andre Berthiaume, 35, also an
associate professor at DePaul, feel no pressure to make their
eight-year relationship official, despite the imminent arrival of
their baby. Instead, they've drawn up powers of attorney and custody,
and child-support agreements in case of a breakup. They also plan to
update their wills. A marriage license? Not any time soon. More
important than that "piece of paper," says Settle, "is that we make
sure our relationship is strong ... We will be Mom and Dad in every
way that's important."
While critics contend that same-sex weddings will destroy the
"sanctity" of traditional unions, researchers say that it's actually
heterosexual couples like Settle and Berthiaume who are redefining
marriage - not only in this country but throughout the Western world.
Over the past few decades, they've made walking down the aisle just
another lifestyle choice. The old model - marriage and then kids - has
given way to a dizzying array of family arrangements that reflect
more lenient attitudes about cohabitation, divorce and children born
out of wedlock. In fact, says University of Chicago sociologist Linda
Waite, author of "The Case for Marriage," gay couples are "really
swimming against the tide. What they want is something that maybe
heterosexual couples take for granted: the social, religious and
legal recognition of a union - to be able to say to the clerk at the
grocery store, 'My husband is right behind me. He has the money'."
This increasingly diverse family album could be a reason why gay
marriage has struck a nerve. The institution of marriage is so
battered that many consider gay unions the last straw, says Princeton
historian Hendrik Hartog, author of "Man and Wife in America." "They
see gay marriage as a boundary case"; in other words, a line too far.
But if the past is a guide, that line is going to keep moving no
matter who objects.
Scholars say the evolution of marriage is nothing new; it's an
institution in constant flux, always responding to the particular
needs of each era. "Throughout much of history, if you acted like you
were married, then you were treated like you were married," says
Stephanie Coontz of Evergreen State University, a historian of
marriage. Religion, a major part of the current defense of
traditional marriage in this country, didn't even enter the picture,
Coontz says, until the ninth century, and then only to prevent
European aristocrats from marrying close relatives. The goal was not
to stop incest but to make sure noble families didn't consolidate too
much power. (Commoners could still hook up with anyone they fancied.)
Even a century ago, a time that many people might look upon with
nostalgia, marriage was hardly the stuff of hearts and flowers. In
this country, women were essentially the property of their husbands,
with few rights. If an American woman married a foreigner, she
automatically lost her citizenship; a man who did the same kept his.
Until the 1970s, there was no concept of marital rape because
husbands "owned" their wives' sexuality. Interracial marriages and
birth control were illegal in many states until the late 1960s.
To see what the future holds, Americans could look to Europe, where
marriage rates are plummeting and illegitimate births are the
norm - prompting widespread concern about how to promote family
stability, especially for children. "We've moved from de jure to de
facto marriage," says Kathleen Kiernan of the London School of
Economics. She estimates that 50 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in
Europe are cohabiting. The numbers are highest, perhaps 70 percent,
in Scandinavia, especially Sweden. The Swedes have even created their
own term for someone who cohabits: "sambo," a word that appears on
official forms besides the options "married" and "single." Another
new word, "sarbo," refers to people who consider themselves a couple
but live apart.
Europeans lead the way on gay marriage as well. The Netherlands
became the first country to legalize same-sex marriages, in 2001;
Belgium followed a year ago. Many countries, including Norway,
Sweden, Denmark and its province Greenland, have registered
partnership laws for heterosexual couples that extend some benefits
to gays. Germany has quietly expanded rights for cohabiting couples,
while in 1998, France approved the Pacte Civil de Solidarite - a kind
of intermediate step between casual cohabitation and formal marriage
that provides tax and health benefits.
In this country, marriage still remains the ideal for most people,
although a lifetime with one person is increasingly elusive. Marriage
is a symbol, says sociologist Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins
University, "that you have created a good personal life." It's also
good for a family's wealth and emotional health. Married couples have
more assets, says Evelyn Lehrer, a professor of economics at the
University of Illinois at Chicago. It's also a hedge. "There's a
pooling of risks," Lehrer says. "If one spouse becomes unemployed,
the other can respond and increase the level of work." Married
couples also live longer and are better adjusted. Having someone
around to watch out for you helps, Lehrer says. There's also
considerable research showing that children reared in stable,
two-parent families thrive; having kids is still a big reason many
people ultimately head down the aisle.
Although there are no national statistics on how many people marry in
religious ceremonies today, most experts believe that the number is
steadily declining, as fewer Americans describe themselves as
affiliated with a religion. But religion can keep couples together.
Studies show that people who marry within a religious community are
somewhat more likely to stay married than people with no affiliation.
Marrying someone of the same or similar religion also improves the
odds of staying together, says Lehrer, even if one partner converts.
Drawing on research on Roman Catholics and Protestants, she says,
"couples [from] the same religion through conversion are at least as
stable as when they're raised in the same faith."
While popular shows like "The Bachelor" make a fetish of courtship
rituals, most people say what they're really looking for is a partner
who can share life's burdens. Educated women used to be the least
likely to get married; now they're the most likely because of their
earning power. "Marriage today is less of an ego trip and more of an
economic bargain for men," says Cherlin. Women with low levels of
education are the least likely to find a spouse - a troubling situation
since they are also most in need of the financial support that a
husband could provide. A big problem is that the men most available
to them as partners tend to be of the same educational level and
therefore have limited earning potential, which also makes them less
desirable husband material.
Even for people from nontraditional backgrounds, the romantic ideal
of marriage endures. Hillary Gross, 24, grew up with four unmarried
parents. Her biological parents divorced when she was a year old and
quickly entered into new relationships that have endured for decades.
Still, she longs to marry. "I'd really like to have one person that I
give my all to," she says. She was recently in a long-term
relationship that she thought might end in a wedding. It didn't, and
she's readjusting her dream. Same plot, with a new leading man - and
maybe even a happy ending.
With Pat Wingert, Karen Springen, Julie Scelfo, Joan Raymond and bureau
To SUBSCRIBE or UNSUBSCRIBE, or Change your subscription address,
use the form on our website (http://www.smartmarriages.com). Click
Newsletter - right under the puzzle piece.
This newslist shares information on marriage, divorce and educational
approaches. Opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by members of the
This is a moderated list. Replies are read by Diane Sollee, editor. Please
indicate if your response is NOT to be shared with the list. PLEASE include
your email address in with your signature.
To read ALL past posts to the newsletter, visit the Archive at:
8th Annual Smart Marriages Conference, Adam's Mark Dallas, TX July 8 - 11,
2004. Pre and Post Conference Training Institutes July 6 - 14, 2004
Subscribe to the free e-newslist at www.smartmarriages.com
List your program in the Directory of Classes at www.smartmarriages.com
Order conference audio and video tapes at 800-241-7785 or at playbacknow.com
Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, LLC (CMFCE)
Diane Sollee, Director
5310 Belt Rd NW, Washington, DC 20015-1961
cmfce at smartmarriages.com
FAIR USE NOTICE: This e-newsletter contains copyrighted material the use of
which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We
make such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of
marriage, family, couples, divorce, legislation, family breakdown, etc. We
understand this constitutes a 'fair use' of such material as provided
for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17
U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit
to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included
information for research and educational purposes. For more information go
to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use
copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond
'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
More information about the SmartMarriages