I hesitate to bring attention to silly ideas because I fear that doing so gives them more credence than they deserve. But in this case I couldn't resist.
First, although their article titled "I Don't: The Case Against Marriage" sometimes reads like a conservative parody of a liberal viewpoint, Bennett and Ellison do a rather capable job of making absurdity sound somewhat reasonable. Second, the claims they make afford us an opportunity to think seriously about what we really do think and believe about society's most fundamental building block, marriage.
Bennett and Ellison start by making the claim that marriage is no longer practically necessary because, whereas women once depended on marriage for financial stability, women are now far better able to fend for themselves economically than they were in the past. They're half wrong and half right.
Yes, certainly women are better educated and better paid than they have been in the past. That's good. But the idea that marriage is therefore unnecessary only follows if one believes that marriage is primarily (if not exclusively) an economic arrangement. It is not. It is a social, cultural and often religious institution full of purpose and meaning. It is a social good.
Research shows that, on average, married men and women are more likely to thrive in marriage -- they live longer, report higher rates of personal and partner satisfaction, less instances of depression and fewer health problems.
Notably absent from these author's "case against marriage" was any discussion about how avoiding marriage will benefit children -- probably because that case can't be made.
Research strongly suggests that, on average, children who grow up in a home with a married mom and dad are healthier, do better in school and are more financially stable than those who do not. Marriage links fathers most directly to their children, and it creates the stable environment kids need to thrive.
One of the major problems with the article is that the authors are highly selective in their use of data; using stats to bolster their case that don't necessarily reflect the sociological consensus. And they used these findings to try and bolster their case that we're not really capable of meaningful marriages.
For example, the article claims that as many as 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women will be unfaithful to their spouse. But this is far from the truth. The General Social Survey found that, on average, 21 percent of married men and 14 percent of married women report sexual infidelity (a number that's far too high, by the way, but that's a topic for another column).
Bennett and Ellison claim that marriage is irrational and romantic, while living together and forsaking marriage is rational. But they have it backwards. The serial monogamist -- i.e. the one who moves from exclusive relationship to exclusive relationship as romance wanes and needs arise -- is the one caught up in the constant pursuit of feeling, not reason. On the other hand, it is often the person who remains committed to a spouse through varying degrees of difficulty who's thinking rationally about their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of their children.
I am not saying that marriage is a flawless institution. As we all know, many marriages do not last. And there are some circumstances where they shouldn't last -- particularly when there has been violence and abuse.
But most married couples recognize that the hard work and sacrifice of marriage is worthwhile because they have a sense that greater relational depth -- true intimacy -- comes with a commitment that pledges to transcends our troubles.
Now, in fairness to the authors, who I actually do believe are sincerely wrestling with what it means to have meaningful relationships in the early part of the 21st century, they do make some relevant observations. Moreover, in many ways their viewpoints reflect much of American practice, if not belief. For while the great majority of Americans do not view marriage as a thing of the past, many of our modern practices (cohabitation, unwed childbearing, etc.) really do undermine and diminish its meaning and purpose.
In the end, I feel sympathy for these young ladies, and not in some condescending way at all. They make the dead-on observation that theirs "is a generation for whom multiple households were the norm." They poignantly point out that they "grew up shepherded between bedrooms, minivans, and dinner tables, with stepparents, half-siblings, and highly complicated holiday schedules."
But that sounds like a lament, not a song of celebration. And yet their article seems to be saying, The Boomer generation's lack of commitment caused us a lot of angst and pain ... so let's tear down the façade and be even less committed. What they're suggesting is a formula for more angst, pain and other sorts of suffering. Ironically enough, the perfect antidote to the problems they present is the commitment and benefits of marriage.
Randy Hicks is president of Georgia Family Council. Georgia Family Council is a nonprofit research and education organization committed to fostering conditions in which individuals, families and communities thrive. For more information, go to www.georgiafamily.org, 770-242-0001 and firstname.lastname@example.org.