Why Marriage Matters: Part 1 of 3

A new Time/Pew Research poll has prompted Americans to revisit the purpose of marriage. The cover story of Time this week boldly asks, “Who Needs Marriage?” and lists all the ways in which marriage is no longer deemed necessary by the American public.  “We’re just not that into marriage,” writes another headline — this time in USA Today — about the Pew survey.

“Marriage is increasingly optional and could be on its way to obsolescence,” writes Sharon Jayson.

Funny — that’s not what most reasonable would take away from the study. It may be true that people no longer “need” to marry to have sex or even garner respect, but every study on marriage demonstrates that people still crave marriage and children still need a mom and a dad. These are two constants we can be assured will never change.

Unfortunately, that is not the message the cultural elites send to the American public — who, as Colleen Carroll Campbell points out in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,

“use their political and media influence to convince Americans that family structure makes no difference in child welfare.”

Indeed, the leftist media — most of whom are devout feminists — play a significant role in the demise of marriage by downplaying traditional families and hailing the single life, single motherhood, homosexual parenting, and cohabitation. People are heavily influenced by what they see and hear around them. Case in point: In 1960, two-thirds of twentysomethings were married. In 2008, only 26% were. Those stats fall in line with the new direction America has taken ever since the counter-cultural movement got off the ground.

But what to make of the disconnect between what Americans say about marriage — that’s it’s becoming “obsolete” — and what Americans really want? According to the Pew survey,

“while 44% of Americans under 30 believe marriage is heading for extinction, only 5% of those in that age group do not want to get married.”

People may skeptical about the necessity and future of marriage, but they’re not happy about it. People are jaded, but they don’t want to be. On the contrary, young people want to get married and stay married — but no one has told them the best way to go about it.

“To interpret that as meaning there’s something broken about the institution of marriage itself would be a horrible, horrible mistake,” writes Seth Eisenberg, president and CEO of the PAIRS Foundation.

Yet that is precisely what we have done, beginning with Elizabeth Gilbert’s wildly successful memoir Eat, Pray, Love. In it, the author takes a year-long romp around the globe after liberating herself from marriage. Despite finding love again with a man named “Felipe,” whom Ms. Gilbert met on her travels, she writes a follow-up book entitled Committed. While it suggests Ms. Gilbert has found peace and contentment within marriage, she has done no such thing. Not only does the author admit she was “sentenced to wed” so that “Felipe” could have legal status as an American, she slams conservatives for all that is wrong with modern marriage.

That is a terrific example of the kind of tutelage to which young people are exposed. This message, or something like it, is played out ad nauseum in women’s magazines, on television, and at the movies. Who can blame Americans for their defeatist attitude toward marriage?

The institution of marriage cannot survive in a country in which the most outspoken people among us denigrate its purpose and design at every turn. Young people need role models. Where will they go to find them?

Part 2:  What the younger generation needs to know about marriage, and why their parents won’t tell them.

Suzanne Venker is co-author of the forthcoming book The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know – and Men Can’t Say (WND Books). Her website is www.suzannevenker.com.

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