Many think marriage is outdated because its diminishing purpose in society. It's supposed to be a lifelong commitment, but that's obviously not true with roughly 40 to 50 percent of all marriages ending in divorce. Many stigmas, like pre-marital sex or having children out of wedlock, are quickly disappearing. It's just not as important as it used to be.
Iceland is an example of a place that's foregone marriage altogether. Two thirds of children born there are born outside of marriage. A strong parental leave policy frees people to choose to live their lives as they want. It turns out, people are totally fine raising families outside of a traditional marriage.
"You have this horrible term in English, 'broken families,'" Bryndis Asmundottir says over coffee. "Which basically means just if you get divorced, then something's broken. But that's not the way it is in Iceland at all. We live in such a small and secure environment, and the women have so much freedom. So you can just, you can choose your life."
Most people marry for romantic reasons, and the legal benefits are a nice bonus. Some people think we should separate marriage and those legal benefits altogether. Marriage is a one-size-fits-all solution that comes with a lot of baggage. Instead of tying legal benefits to romantic feelings, people should be able to define who they consider family as they choose. The government doesn't need to be involved in marriage at all.
Either a benefit should exist for everyone (like health care or financial security in old age), or it should be tied to practical concerns such as mutual dependency, merged finances, or providing stability for minor children. Love should be a private matter, and the state ought to stay out of it.
Marriage does not have the same meaning and significance as it did in the past, but it still comes with all the baggage. It's difficult to tease out the institution of marriage from the church—just look at the long battle for gay marriage. It's inevitable the definition of marriage will continue to evolve with society. It's better to let individuals define how they want to be together and get the government out of the way.
Others think marriage is as important now as it's ever been. The definition of marriage has shifted over the years but that does not mean it's any less significant. Marriage is a more intentional choice now. People are having children and living together outside of marriage. In previous generations, this would be unthinkable. Instead of marrying for convenience, people are marrying because they truly want to be married. Many still get huge personal meaning from marriage.
Marriage to many people, including me, simply means celebrating your love, cementing your relationship and locking together your lives. I love being married. I love the security it brings, the sense of us v. the world. We can get through anything together. We have made a public commitment to care for each other, no matter what, to look out for each other. We’re on the same team.
Some say traditional marriage must be maintained, as children raised in a stable marriage tend to do better than children raised in other situations. This trend holds up when controlling for race and education, too. So if children have been shown to do better in two parent households, it's in everyone's best interest that marriage continues as an institution. It's a bedrock of society.
Do states with more families headed by married parents enjoy greater prosperity and give poor children a better shot at the American Dream? The short answer: “yes.” We find, for example, that states with more married-parent families (e.g., Idaho, Minnesota, Utah, and Washington) have higher per capita GDP, upward income mobility, lower rates of child poverty and higher family incomes than those with fewer married couples (e.g., Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina).
Besides, marriage comes with 1,138 statutory provisions that determine benefits, rights and privileges. People who do not fit the traditional forms of marriage can enter into civil unions and other contracts at will. With gay marriage, anyone who wants to marry can marry. Marriage comes with genuine benefits to families and society. Why fix what isn't broken?
Here are the marriage trends over the past 50 years.
The government should not control who can get married. Marriage is a right, not a privilege.