Marriage

Today, Friday, June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. It was a 5-4 decision. This turn of events has made a lot of people very happy, and a lot of others very sad. The decision has struck a lot of emotional chords.

But to me, nothing resonates more deeply than the emphatic assertion that marriage is a valid institution.

When I was in high school, I took a course on feminism. Most of my female friends in that class assured me that marriage was part of the problem. To them, marriage was an oppressive artifact of a chauvinistic society, a chief contributor to inequity between the sexes and in need of radical reform, if not retirement. This was in 1979.

By the time Ruthie and I were getting married seven years later, marriage had become fairly unpopular in the wider culture. In 1986, a lot of people regarded marriage as mildly passé, quaint, even anachronistic. Talk of “the 50 percent divorce rate” became common, as did the feeling that such statistics weakened the case for getting married.

By the early 2000’s, I had coworkers bluntly asking me the question, “Why bother?” Aside from philosophical opposition, they had more pragmatic concerns: “What is the point of getting married when we can just live together?” Among my single friends, interest in marriage, if any, came chiefly from only one benefit: Taxes. But many predicted they would probably end up divorced anyway, so they were hardly marriage enthusiasts. Divorce, if it came, would force them to divide their assets and make them poorer, thus wiping out any tax benefits. Whatever positivity they clung to in their outlook could only be called sanguine. And one even suggested to me that I must be in a midlife crisis, because who gets to midlife married without being in a midlife crisis?

In the end, my professional peers, in general, were with my high school peers in believing that marriage was a virtually useless institution. It could safely be discarded as a throwback to a more primitive time, a time when oppression of women was the real driver anyway. Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, went so far as to suggest that if we’re going to keep it around, marriage should have an expiration date, perhaps being only good for seven years.

Over the last 10 years, marriage became so universally reviled that it was rare to hear it cast as anything but a masochistic choice. Expect great suffering and a decline in your quality of life became the standard model for marriage, as Mike Birbiglia so frequently reminded us.

Then this morning happened.

It looks like marriage is back.