A middle-aged married father of two, in between his ecstatic praise of Barack Obama and enthusiastic expressions of support of Hillary Clinton, often mentions his passion for gay marriage. Another subject of which this Bay Area dweller is fond is the pernicious influence of Christianity and Judaism on American society. The other day he said that he couldn’t stand conservative Christians for suggesting that Americans were descending into anarchy due to an abandonment of Christian values.
I asked “Without Christian values or similar cultural ones, wouldn’t a man be free to abandon his middle-aged wife and young children in favor of a childless 25-year-old woman?” He replied “If he needs to do that I wouldn’t judge him.” What about the woman who leaves her husband and kids to travel the world in an Eat, Pray, Love-style journey of self-discovery? It turned out that was okay as well.
The conversation reminded me of one that I had recently with a college student (and, of course, therefore at least a moderately outspoken advocate for LGBTQIA rights). His non-working mom, attractive at nearly 50, had sued his high-income father and used the resulting cash to enjoy a sex-and-travel relationship with a man just over 30. The student acknowledged that the divorce had a devastating effect on him and his sibling, ruining their teenage years. However, he said that he thought that his mother was right to break up their home because “people shouldn’t stay married if there is no passion.” I asked “So if a guy is married to a woman who is exhausted from running after kids and thus tends to collapse at night before the question of passion becomes relevant, he should feel free to seek passion with a 22-year-old off craigslist?” The answer turned out to be basically “yes” because in deciding whether or not to stay married there were no important considerations other than the passion currently experienced by one of the married adults.
I’m wondering if the whole gay marriage debate among heterosexuals was the result of the two sides misunderstanding each other’s concept of “marriage.” Marriage under the law of a typical U.S. state is a temporary financial arrangement that can be terminated by either party for any reason (“no fault”; see Real World Divorce). But citizens often invest the term with additional meaning. Perhaps the hetero anti-gay-marriage folks dragged in concepts from religion and ideas that marriage might involve a personal sacrifice? While the hetero pro-gay-marriage folks added in stuff about passion and personal satisfaction? So they ended up talking past each other and, though using the same word, were talking about two different things.
- see “Litigation, Alimony, and Child Support in the U.S. Economy” for how we have about twice as many children who live without both parents compared to some of the European countries