It seems quaint in our oh-so-modern world these days, but in the dusty recesses of the past, marriage served to formalize a basic understanding between the sexes: physical protection in exchange for NOT-ONLY sex/companionship, BUT mostly some level of assurance of procreative success. Because in that more primitive time, the world was largely hostile. Those who tried to go it alone didn’t last long. Sure, the ancient union of man and a woman also served to form a cooperative effort to gather resources such as food and shelter, both for each other and for their offspring, but that is probably not the reason for the almost universal institution of heterosexual marriage. After all, same-sex partnerships could also achieve community of purpose and would probably provide other advantages as well – surely a band of warrior males would have been easier to protect from marauders than a throng of women with squalling children in tow. And men are easy sex partners. And we can also see that different cultures had different allocations of labor to produce food. For example, in the Plains tribes of indigenous North America males harvested the buffalo but the women were primarily responsible for turning the carcasses into preserved food. Compare that to the sod-busting settlers who displaced the tribes. On those early farms, men and women routinely worked next to each other in the fields. Indeed, some Native Americans looked down on the male settlers because they routinely engaged in “women’s work.”
But regardless of the details, it was largely about the sex and kingdom building for the men and the protection for the women. So a grand bargain was struck. In return for providing a comparative haven for mothering and homemaking, the man was given to understand that the wife (probably) wouldn’t mess around thereby ensuring that the man’s genes were passed on to the next generation. And, with their children being protected, the woman was assured of the same reproductive success. For thousands of years across many cultures the marriage relationship has been the ideal – that is, until easy access to birth control begat the sexual revolution of our modern era.
With the rise of the modern nation-state, physical protection once proffered by men, has increasingly become the province of the state. Women need not fear unwanted pregnancy due to easy birth control. And no longer do women concern themselves with finding a suitable partner who can provide traditional fathering skills such as financial support and teaching kids how to ride bikes, use tools, watch football, etc, because the welfare state has banished the idea of a woman having to rear her illegitimate children on her own anyway. The modern woman can “give the milk away for free” without consequence. And, on the flipside, the man now has easy access to sexual partners. Why “buy the cow” when all you have to do is swipe right?
With so many social programs now available to the woman who chooses to have a child, the necessity for a spouse is diminished. In fact, having a spouse will negatively affect the amount of services and financial support a woman can expect from the government. The plain truth is that, financially, unless a woman has a excellent paying job or wealth of her own, it is a BAD idea for a woman to get married to have children. And, our legal system demands that the biological father remains on the hook for child support for at least the first 18 years of a child’s life – if the man has a regular income. So if the woman chooses the DNA donor well, she can benefit by at least 20% of his good salary along with the services automatically afforded to unwed mothers. Yes, it is no wonder that more than half of all births in the US are now outside of marriage. That’s good sound financial planning. And if there is one thing women have been consistent at over the centuries, it’s being mercenary.
How does the man feel about this, having once been an biological imperative now being relegated to being nothing more than a toy to ward off feelings of low self-esteem? Well, firstly, most modern secular men don’t think much outside of their pants anyway. And they won’t think much about it at all until they are hit with their first court ordered support payment. Then and only then, will they reconsider who they have sex with in the future. But even so, the system really doesn’t care what the man thinks any more. After all, a man has no say in whether the child is even born (what with the insistence on the unfettered right to abortion on demand). If the woman decides to have the child, then the man has no choice but to contribute a portion of his income. And these obviously man-friendly policies having been meted out by the all-powerful Patriarchy, the system still insists that the mother has the predominate role in raising the child, unless she just doesn’t want it or is grossly (emphasis grossly) unfit (although, to be sure, the law is slowly but surely inching towards a more equitable sense of parenthood these days). But most men are still lucky to get the kid every Wednesday evening and every other weekend.
So where does this leave the institution of marriage? Well, if not in the dust bin of history, it at least requires a redefinition. Marriage used to mean a solemn vow – let no man put asunder and all that – but today it means nothing beyond the vague sureties of any other contractual arrangement, and maybe less. No-fault divorce is the standard these days. No need to show that your spouse has committed some heinous violation of societal norms anymore (societal norms being an antiquated concept all by itself). And depending on the wrinkles of the law of the state you live in at the time of a divorce, there are rules already in place to determine how assets and debts are split. Alimony and child-support are determined by schedules and formulas. It seems that marriage has been stripped of much of its legal meaning and now, perhaps at least in part because of these changes, it is being stripped of its religious and spiritual meaning as well.
Why am I talking like this? Aren’t I a good Latter Day Saint? Don’t I understand the sanctity of marriage? Yes, of course I do. But the world no longer does. I am simply pointing out what this world has come to. Marriage is no longer a protection for women, or men, or the family. It means less and less every day. The liberal, free-love ideologies that came from ignoring the Spirit altogether, and having the gall to think we are smarter than eons of nature(Darwinism if you will) AND Heavenly Father both, means our humanistic chickens are coming home to roost. Our society is paying the price for our foolishness and the bill just keeps getting bigger. So what does this mean for Latter Day Saints? Ponder this and we’ll discuss in Part II. *******************************************