As serious as some people take marriage, the institution has given us some great jokes. “Marriage is an extremely long, dull meal at which dessert is first served,” Voltaire said. “A man is never complete until he’s married, after that’s he’s finished,” goes another aside.
If you laughed at either of these witticisms, don’t tell Rep. Peggy Wallace. This West Jordan Republican takes marriage very seriously. Like most Americans enamored of the institution, she believes marriage is almost always good and that divorce is almost always bad. When a lawmaker such as herself wants to end the majority of no-fault divorces through proposed legislation, that much can be inferred. So if you’re married and looking for an out, and especially if you have children, don’t look toward “irreconcilable differences.” In Wallace’s and other conservative lawmakers’ eyes, that’s a poor excuse.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with fortifying the institution of marriage. When done right, and entered into by responsible adults, marriage can benefit families and society. The problem is that lawmakers make lousy marriage therapists in that they pretend to know the individual circumstances of people’s most intimate relationships. Of course, they know nothing about those circumstances at all. For needed proof, look no further than this November’s unfortunate passage of Amendment 3. Utah lawmakers, and for that matter the majority of voters, condescendingly pretend that there’s nothing valid about same-sex relationships simply because they vehemently disapprove of said relationships.
Little wonder, then, that Wallace and her supporters eventually would transfer this attitude into the heterosexual realm but only, apparently, if the married couple have gone past the 7-year itch into 10 years of matrimony, and have children to support. Divorce no doubt can harm children, but new psychological research has shown that it’s not the divorce itself that has the potential to harm children, but whether or not the children’s parents handle their separation amicably. The more amicable the divorced parents act, the better off the children will turn out. That’s why, in a rare wise turn, Utah lawmakers had the foresight in 1992 to require mandatory classes in divorce management for parents making the split. The state has done plenty to ensure the psychological health of children who live through the divorce of their parents.
What’s most odd about our nation’s love affair with marriage is that we seem to revere it above all other social contracts. Corporations can lay off thousands of employees in the name of competitive capitalism, but few of us seem bothered by the erosion of the social contract between worker and employer. Yet, as Mother Jones magazine pointed out in a recent article, a man who makes even $1 more per hour in wages increases the chance by 5 percent that he’ll one day marry. You’d think Republican moralists might show more concern about living wages if they’re so worried about divorce and single parents.
Even more interesting was the magazine’s finding that divorces are 27 percent more common in Republican red states than Democratic blue states. Could it be that Republican women don’t really find traditional patriarchy all that great a fit? Republican business interests might want to take note of another interesting figure. Forbes magazine, hardly a liberal rag, estimated that if gay marriage were made legal the wedding industry would incur an estimated $17 billion more in profits. How about that for incentive to let gays marry?