Is tampering with marital tradition dangerous?
by Melvyn L Fein
June 11, 2012 12:00 AM | 1028 views | 17 17 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Whenever I assert that the central purpose of marriage is to protect children, someone usually objects that not all marriages are blessed with children. How, they ask, can an institution be about something that is not always present?

This is a fair question, to which there is a good answer. Consider the rules of the road. American drivers know that when they get into their automobiles they are required to drive on the right side of the street. They also understand that without this rule, the gridlock would be so bad that no one could ever get anywhere.

Nonetheless, there are times we have the roads exclusively to ourselves. At four o’clock in the morning we might be the only vehicle for miles around. Even so, we are required to keep to the proper lane. And we do.

But why do we? Why don’t we simply throw caution to the wind and aim our machines anywhere we desire? If it sounds silly that we do not, there is actually a very good reason that we don’t — and it does not involve the fear that we may get a ticket.

The reason is habit. The need to keep to the appropriate side of the road is so compelling that doing so must be reflexive. It needs to be something we do not think about, but take for granted. Only in this way can we ensure that people — and not just us — do what is necessary most of the time.

This same social strategy applies to marriage. Some social institutions are so deeply ingrained in our hearts and minds that they seem natural. They have to be because there are times when we might be tempted to violate them that are so egregious we must prevent this from occurring.

Mind you, social rules are broken with tedious regularity. Every society has an injunction against murder, nonetheless murders occur everywhere. Yet there would be far more murders if we did not take these proscriptions seriously. If we ignored them, then whenever we felt insulted there might be blood on the floor.

It is the same with marriage. Marriages are supposed to be lifelong commitments. When people agree to wed, they publically vow to remain together until death does them part. Not all do, but the fact that they take these promises seriously enhances the prospects that they will.

This is of particular importance to children because the benefit of having two parents is so great. A mother and father dedicated to remaining a couple are likely to be dedicated to protecting their offspring. There are exceptions, but emotional loyalties improve the odds.

These attitudes are embedded in people when they are very young. They derive in part from the importance that society attaches to marriage. The reason that nuptial ceremonies are public affairs is so that the community can add external pressures to personal desires.

If this is so, then tampering with time-honored marital traditions may be more dangerous than many people suppose. If traditional marriages strengthen the bonds between individuals, then scoffing at this custom may loosen attachments upon which we all rely — especially children.

Which brings me to the subject of gay marriage. Gay marriages may be a good idea — but then again they may not. If in imposing this recent innovation people become convinced that marriage is arbitrary, the sense of sanctity with which it has been surrounded may be reduced.

Then where will we be? Will we feel free to drive on whichever side of the road we please? Will we decide that multiple spouses are OK? Or that cohabitation is just as good as the old-fashioned kind of marriage?

But if we do: What about the children? Will we also decide that a commitment to them is arbitrary? I hope not, because if this transpires the amount of personal unhappiness will be staggering.

Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University
Comments
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anonymous
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June 12, 2012
From American THinker

""The Washington Times reported on Sunday that two new studies indicate that children raised by gay parents might not benefit from the experience like kids raised by married mother-father parents.""

""The empirical claim that no notable differences exist must go," University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus said in his study in Social Science Research.""

anonymous
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June 11, 2012
From American Journal of Epidemiology-

"This study compared prevalence rates of most common sexually transmitted diseases (STD) in heterosexual and homosexual men who made respectively 12,201 and 5324 visits to an STD clinic over 18 months. Overall, homosexual men were significantly (p < 0.001) more likely than heterosexual men to have gonorrhea (30.31% vs. 19.83 %), early syphilis (1.08% vs. 0.34%) and anal warts (2.90% vs. 0.26%) but less likely to have nongonococcal urethritis (NGU) (14.63% vs. 36.40%, p < 0.001), herpes genitalis (0.93% vs. 3.65%, p < 0.001), pediculosis pubis (4.30% vs. 5.35%, p < 0.005), scabies (0.42% vs. 0.76%, p < 0.02), and genital warts (1.68% vs. 6.69%, p < 0.001). In most cases the differences in rates remained significant (p < 0.05) when corrected for age and race. It is speculated that higher rates of gonorrhea and syphilis result from a larger mean number of sexual contacts, more potential sites of infection, and more hidden and asymptomatic disease, while the lower rates of the other STD result from a lesser susceptibility of anal mucosa to the causative agent(s) of NGU, herpes genitalis, and venereal warts or from a lack of pubic apposition (pediculosis pubis)."
Ron Donaghe
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June 11, 2012
And this has what, exactly, to do with this article?
anonymous
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June 11, 2012
@Ron

I'm sorry you cannot grasp what the study of disease in homosexuality indicates.

It merely points out additional risks to driving on the wrong side of the road.

I do enjoy your effort to divert the truth of the above by asserting there is no relationship to the article.

Keep writing those books.

Enjoy!!

Too funny
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June 12, 2012
Ron, I think anonymous is making an excellent case for monogamy among homosexual men by illustrating the high rates of STDs in that population (even though he/she cited a 1979 study - per the CDC, the rates continue to be much higher in that population than among heterosexual men).

So as Dr. Fein struggled to illustrate, marriage is a decent but certainly not foolproof social forcing function for monogamy, which should lead to decreases in the spread of STDs among homosexual men.

Thanks to anonymous and Dr. Fein for providing this great talking point!
anonymous
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June 11, 2012
Deep thoughts, by Melvyn Fein.

"Gay marriages may be a good idea — but then again they may not."

Cats and Dogs living together!

This piece sounds like something from someone who would lead his list of "honors and awards" with: Who's Who in the South and Southwest

anonymous
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June 12, 2012
anonymous, thank you for your deep thoughts. You sound very bitter, but not versed well enough in logic and reason to put forth anything more than a personal attack of Dr. Fein...pissey naming calling as we say in my neck of the woods. Very persuasive.

anonymous
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June 12, 2012
Dr. Fein, I don't care what people say in "your neck of the woods"
Kevin Foley
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June 11, 2012
His inane driving analogy aside, Dr. Fein glosses over the fact that 50% of all marriages fail and children always suffer the most when there's divorce, especially when it's acrimonious and a parent uses the children as emotional pawns.

But Fein is worried about gay couples raising children?
anonymous
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June 12, 2012
Ahh, Mr. Foley here to tell us about the inane. Indeed, the expert has arrived.
anonymous
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June 13, 2012
Since they are not legal arrangements you do not know the number of gay couples that split. I have many friends that live that lifestyle and have seen a regular turn of partners. Most with no children, but I think the numbers would be the same if things were legal based on my amateur observations
R. Lee Bays
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June 11, 2012
Dr. Fein, you are making some very bold yet testable claims for which you have provided no citation. For example, you claim that public marriage commitments between couples “enhances prospects” of long-term success; a testable assertion for which you have not provided a citation. Raley and Bumpass (2003) write in Demographic Research that the most accurate predicators for marital success are actually level of educational attainment, age at marriage, and income level, with young, poor and uneducated people having the highest rates of martial dissolution. It would seem that “tradition” has very little influence on martial success but hey, why look at the data when there are opinions to be shared right? Is it too much to ask for just a touch of scientific rigor?
Different conclusion
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June 11, 2012
I draw the opposite conclusion from your analogy. Perhaps if gay marriage is allowed, commitment will be stronger between gay couples therefore strengthening the sanctity of marriage and family. Children of gay couples (because gay couples are going to have children whether there is marriage or not) will feel more validated and know their parents are committed to them and each other. If you allow gays to drive on the right side of the road, it will become habit for all.
Optimistic fool
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June 11, 2012
Wow, I thought you were leading up to a statement like "and that's why divorce should be made very difficult or even illegal."

Silly me.
Ron Donaghe
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June 11, 2012
This author tries to use the analogy of rules of the road to set up the idea that a social idea can be so ingrained that we do it out of habit, and then makes the leap that marriage is one of these ingrained "rules of the road" that, while sometimes thwarted, is a good habit to practice, even unconsciously. Then he says "If in IMPOSING this recent innovation people become convinced that marriage is arbitrary, the sense of sanctity with which it has been surrounded may be reduced." Shortly after this, he introduces the old "slippery slope" argument that changing marriage will introduce us to "multiple spouses" and that "cohabitation is just as good as the old-fashioned kind of marriage." Nice try, but multiple spouses were tried before we ever thought about gay marriage—by the Mormons—and it is still going on in some of the splinter Mormon sects; also, cohabitation has not only been tried, it's been quite common for at least forty years. Again, this slippery slope has nothing to do with gay marriage. Further, we're not really changing the definition of marriage by allowing same-sex marriages; this would be in addition to opposite sex marriages. There's no imposition on traditional heterosexuals getting married. They still can. No...if you want to look at what is causing good old-fashioned heterosexual marriage to give a sense of being arbitrary and losing the sense of sanctity, take gay marriage out of the equation; you have a 50 percent divorce rate among heterosexuals, you have serial marriages (aka Newt Gingrich and millions of other heterosexual men and women who rack up one marriage after another throughout their adult lives)—all without the help of gay marriage. This is not a think piece; it's not even a convincing analogy. It's just a bare-faced attempt to disenfranchise a whole group of people who long to have the same chance at sanctity of marriage and a sense of stability that civil status can grant—including the benefits.
Oppositte conclusion
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June 11, 2012
Excellent comments Ron!
Off Balance
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June 11, 2012
I agree with Dr Fein.
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