7 Quick Takes (12/10/10) Special Marriage Edition

7 Quick Takes (12/10/10) Special Marriage Edition December 10, 2010


It’s exam period for me, so posting will slow up a bit (the only other option is alternating posts on Sweeney Todd and diptheria: the topics of my two big research papers.  Still, I have a new post on abusive relationships as part of my covenant marriage series, and another post on why I think covenant marriage is bad for Christians will go up this afternoon/evening.

In the meantime, here’s a roundup of some interesting articles on marriage I’ve been looking at lately:


When Stephen and I first started arguing about this topic, I asked him to link me to a description of a properly feminist marriage.  He sent me to Jessica Valenti’s article at The Guardian. (I’m going to complain about it, so in fairness to the author, you should read the whole piece, not just my excerpt).

As I grew up and began identifying myself as a feminist, there were plenty of issues that continued to make me question marriage: the father “giving” the bride away, women taking their husband’s last name, the white dress, the vows promising to “obey” the groom. And that only covers the wedding. Once you get married, women are still implicitly expected to do the majority of the housework and take care of any future children. I remember reading one study that said that even couples who had been living together for years in equitable bliss ended up with a more “traditional” division of household labour if they got married – as though signing that piece of paper somehow skewed their sense of fair play.

…So when we decided to get married, we talked about the traditions to avoid (white dress), what to incorporate (both parents walking us both down the aisle) and, of course, how to plan the wedding.

Look through the article.  This feminist reworking of marriage focuses mainly on the public aspects of weddings (the dress, the hand-off, etc) rather than the ways, if any, that marriage can or should alter the relationship between two feminists.  This is a trap that a lot of marriage revisionists fall into, and I’d love to be given links to feminist reworkings of marriage that focus on its legal and cultural purposes in the long term.


This account, by a British atheist, goes a bit farther in discussing the purposes of non-sacramental marriage.  It’s a fairly wide-ranging article, with asides on the history of legal marriage in England, a brief comment on marriage incentives in the British tax code, and this anecdote:

My father had been away in India at the time of my [civil] wedding (my family are Hindu, of Punjabi descent). When I went to see him at his office after he returned to break the news, he thankfully took it well. But he had one demand. “This needs to be done properly. I want you and Miriam to have a priest come over and do the ceremony.” He reached for the telephone. “Dad,” I said, “Miriam’s Jewish.” He paused. “Even better.” he replied. We could have both a Hindu and a Jewish ceremony. He started to rummage through an old Rolodex, hunting, presumably, for the number of a rabbi.


As a stat geek, I can’t go any farther without a digression into the research methods used to evaluate the benefits of marriage.  Amanda Marcotte criticized the standard approach at DoubleX:

these kinds of studies lump all nonmarried people into one group. People who are in long term, committed relationships without that piece of paper are put in the same group as people who’ve never held a relationship together. I want to see apples to apples comparisons. How do unmarried people who’ve been together for five or 10 years hold up next to people who have been together that long but tied the knot in their first year or two together? That people are giving up on marriage doesn’t mean they’ve given up on love or commitment. In fact, many of us believe our commitments are made stronger by the fact that they are only to each other and not to an institution.

Jim Manzi repliedat The American Scene.


I’ll admit, as a true blue Democrat, I’m seldom excited by Ross Douthat’s columns, but I was really interested in “The Changing Culture War”  In the wake of new data from the National Marriage Project, Douthat focuses on the decline of marriage in lower-income families.

[T]he long-running culture war arguments about how to structure family life (Should marriage be reserved for heterosexuals? Is abstinence or “safe sex” the most responsible way to navigate the premarital landscape?) look increasingly irrelevant further down the educational ladder, where sex and child-rearing often take place in the absence of any social structures at all.This, in turn, may be remembered as the great tragedy of the culture war: While college-educated Americans battle over what marriage should mean, much of the country may be abandoning the institution entirely.


Hanna Rosin, also of DoubleX, took issue with Douthat’s column.  She wrote:

The part I am uncomfortable with is the patrician solution. If it was wrong to impose the values of the sexual revolution on the pious underclass is it not wrong now to impose our love of marriage? The National Marriage Project is concerned with rescuing traditional marriage, and they partner with the Center for Marriage and Families which is concerned with reducing the percentage of children born to single parents. Both groups make the assumption that the retreat from marriage is not the result of but the cause of our troubles.

But I’m not so sure. I read report after report about the decline of marriage and it feels more like a symptom: of female independence, economic disaster, the declining status of men. Encouraging marriage among a group of people who have given up on it is fairly difficult, as the Clinton administration found out during the welfare reform era. By contrast other social policies – better child care options for single mothers, support for out of work dads who need to pay child support – are relatively easy.

Inaction allows the current structure to continue and spread.  Rosin is obviously unwilling to endorse the status quo, since she wants to enact legislation that would make life easier for single mothers.  This intervention is its own form of (possibly justified) cultural imperialism.

If we think marriage and other structures that help define families are important, it makes sense to push a particular vision of marriage and to set up laws that promote that vision, albeit in a soft paternalistic way.  It’s a cop-out to try to avoid influencing the culture.


If you want a hint for my post this afternoon on why covenant marriage hurts Christians, check out this post from Forward.com about the Jewish man who is accidentally bigamous in New York State:

Semel, of Brooklyn, married his second wife in a religious ceremony over the summer. The wedding took place about two years after Semel and his first wife signed a get, or a bill of Jewish divorce. But since civil divorce proceedings are ongoing, Semel didn’t obtain a civil marriage license for his recent wedding.

An Orthodox Jew, Semel sees the second marriage as a religious union without a civil component. “I’m married in the eyes of God,” he said of his second marriage. “I’m not married legally.”

But New York State laws don’t recognize such a distinction, making Semel’s second wedding a rare example of an illegal American Jewish religious ceremony. Clergy can be punished with up to a year in prison for performing a marriage for a couple that they know to be ineligible to be wed civilly.

(h/t Marriage Debate)


[Seven Quick Things is a blog carnival run by Jen of Conversion Diary]

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