I Do (for now): Rethinking Marriage in America
Washington State has already issued its first marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Maine and Maryland aren’t far behind.
The institution of marriage is modernizing. New proposals across the globe suggest that the practice may not only be changing with regard to who can get married, but also for how long. With half of all American marriages ending in divorce, it may be time to question: Is “till death do us part” too much to ask?
Our neighbors in Canada and Mexico—and even, possibly, people in that other world of Hollywood—believe that short-term marriage contracts rather than lifelong ones are the new frontier. Just last year, lawmakers in Mexico City posed an amendment to civil code that would allow couples to decide the length of their matrimonial commitment.
Our society continues to move in a direction that makes marriage more difficult. We live longer, which makes death as a parting point much farther off. Overall, American culture puts less emphasis on religion, and we live farther from our families—both of which functioned as invaluable support systems of marriage.
But do we want to live in a society in which marriage—theoretically the highest level of commitment—is predetermined as temporary?
Marriage itself is technically temporary, as society’s majority no longer subscribes to the mindset of the older generation that regarded divorce as taboo. But, you don’t get married intending to separate. Short-term marriage contracts—some as short as two years—would essentially create a divorce culture. Is this what we want? And what about the health and happiness of the children from these partnerships?
According to one expert, Susan L. Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, the implementation of short-term contracts would normalize divorce and lessen the emotional toll on all parties involved, including kids.
Yet, my impression from witnessing many friends’ parents divorce is that the fact that your parents have split is not as crippling as the readjustment to your own divided life. Isn’t the double-life the overwhelming part?
Scholars have considered this, too. Their solution: a short-term marriage contract with a twenty-year expiration date—more-or-less when children leave home. There’s evidence this is already happening in the U.S.: The divorce rate for couples age 50-64 has doubled in the past thirty years.
I know what you’re probably thinking. How about cohabitation? It seems a fair compromise between dating and marriage if you want the option to leave without a legal mess. Yet, studies show that married couples, in comparison to cohabitors, are mentally and physically healthier and more satisfied in their relationship.
So how do we want to view marriage in this country? Should marriage be a lifelong commitment? Or, have we evolved past partnering for life and should we just be partnering for kids?
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