NYTimes Columnist On How Abandoning Monogamy in the 70's Harmed Marriage


Ross Douthat in the New York Times on Dan Savage's effort to separate monogamy from marriage:

Savage is strongly pro-marriage, but he thinks the institution is weighed down by unrealistic cultural expectations about monogamy.

... Forty years ago, Savage’s perspective temporarily took upper-middle-class America by storm. In the mid-1970s, only 51 percent of well-educated Americans agreed that adultery was always wrong. But far from being strengthened by this outbreak of realism, their marriages went on to dissolve in record numbers. This trend eventually reversed itself. Heterosexual marriage has had a tough few decades, but its one success story is the declining divorce rate among the upper middle class. This decline, tellingly, has gone hand in hand with steadily rising disapproval of adultery.

There’s a lesson here. Institutions tend to be strongest when they make significant moral demands, and weaker when they pre-emptively accommodate themselves to human nature.

Critics of gay marriage see this as one of the great dangers in severing the link between marriage and the two realities — gender difference and procreation — that it originally evolved to address. A successful marital culture depends not only on a general ideal of love and commitment, but on specific promises, exclusions and taboos. And the less specific and more inclusive an institution becomes, the more likely people are to approach it casually, if they enter it at all.