Gays and Lesbians Can Save Marriage

While the National Organization for Marriage and other groups have been desperately fighting against gay and lesbian people who want to get married, new numbers from the Census Bureau show marriage has bigger problems than gays and lesbians wanting to join the party. In fact, as the New York Times reports, the wedding party is getting smaller and smaller.

Married couples represented just 48 percent of American households in 2010, according to data being made public Thursday and analyzed by the Brookings Institution. This was slightly less than in 2000, but far below the 78 percent of households occupied by married couples in 1950.

What is more, just a fifth of households were traditional families—married couples with children—down from about a quarter a decade ago, and from 43 percent in 1950, as the iconic image of the American family continues to break apart.

It’s interesting that in a time when right wing Christian groups are pushing the “gold standard” of a one man-one woman household that such families are on the serious decline—for reasons that have little to do with religion. Instead, education levels and economic factors are dictating whether or not couples marry—the idea of providing a one man-one woman home for raising children seems to find little support among those seeking mates these days.

That’s bad news for NOM and other religious right organizations that wish to paint marriage as the heterosexual, child-rearing Nirvana that gays and lesbians need not apply for. While NOM and their cohorts ring the alarm bells about how gays and lesbians want to “re-define” marriage, it seems while they were away slaying the same-sex marriage dragon, their heterosexual counterparts were already at work redefining marriage in their own way.

Marriage is no longer a rigid gender-role-based institution where the man is the breadwinner and the woman is the caretaker of the home and the children. More women are college graduates pursuing their own careers. More men are taking an interest in being at home and raising the children. Men and women are finding that marriage works better as an egalitarian partnership than with the woman “obeying” or submitting to her man’s leadership.

What’s interesting is that heterosexual relationships are looking more and more like gay and lesbian relationships. Without a defined gender role, two men or two women have to negotiate who does the traditionally gender-based roles of the dishes or the lawn mowing. Much to NOM’s dismay, I’m sure, it has been heterosexual couples who have already redefined marriage. Gays and lesbians would recognize these more modern forms of marriage because this is how they’ve been relating to one another all along—as equal partners.

Marriage is already on a trajectory to redefining itself as those who participate it are shaped by our changing society. It would seem that an institution that is falling out of favor with heterosexuals would receive a much needed revival if gays and lesbians were welcomed to the party. If NOM is really concerned about the health of marriage, this seems like a natural cure. Gays and lesbians can save marriage!

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