The headline results of a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in coordination with Time magazine didn't surprise me really, but it did bother me deeply. Apparently four in ten Americans now believe that the institution of marriage is becoming obsolete. The article reporting the story confessed, "Those most likely to think marriage is becoming obsolete are people who are part of the trend: 62 percent of unmarried couples who live together and have children." And perhaps just as troubling, 62 percent of the respondents also believe that homosexual couples raising children constitute a legitimate family.
So what's the cause for alarm? What does it matter if attitudes toward traditional marriage are changing? Can't humanity survive apart from the long-standing monogamous, heterosexual marriage? The foundational problem, of course, is that trending attitudes are based on ideas, and ideas naturally have far reaching consequences. As the poll reveals, the greatest concentration of those who believe marriage is becoming a fossilized relic are those living together with children outside of wedlock. They are enjoying the conveniences and benefits of marriage without actually making any formal covenant to one another.
Once again, who cares? It's their life, aren't they free to live anyway they want? After all, if a guy aspires to be a plumber, an electrician, a doctor, or an unmarried father, what right do we have to judge his personal ambitions or deny his individual preferences? Well, let's change the scenery and ask that same question with a medical twist. What right do we have to judge or deny someone without a medical degree who performs elective surgery on his own children? They are his children, it's his home, and what he does in the privacy of his own dwelling with his own family is his business right? Obviously not. That man's on his way to prison.
We as a culture recognize that there is a legitimate way to perform surgery, a legitimate way to become a commercial airline pilot, even a legitimate way to get a fishing license. We have established parameters and boundaries for all activities and even personal practices that have far reaching effects and are likely to have substantial consequences upon the rest of society. We must now publicly answer the question: Is there a legitimate way to raise children? Our little offspring do become adults eventually, the future generation of society, and their development and resulting character will become the great public concern. That question's answer eclipses the environment, the national debt, and national security combined. Do children need a mother and a father, or can any socially engineered concoction suffice for delivering healthy, stable, and well-balanced adults to society?
There's no need to appeal to statistics or studies or prison interviews to make the point. Human history, common sense, and observable behavior tell the story quite perceptibly. Children need both a mom and a dad living in committed monogamy to reach their greatest potential. I was speaking with a local school psychologist recently, and he began to share with me some of the horror stories that he has to try and untangle for kids in the public education system. Children are arriving at school in the morning having survived a nightmare existence the evening before. So I asked him what the greatest single factor was in determining the psychological health and social adaptability of a child. He didn't hesitate, "the family."
By the twin powers of observation and experience, the reasonable majority of our culture knows and understands that a traditional family produces the healthiest and most well-balanced children. So why is there such a concentrated fight against the definition and institution of marriage as it has been understood within western civilization for two millennia? Why are increasing numbers deliberately calling this necessary institution of man and wife obsolete?
It's all about the sex. The 60s sexual revolution of "free love" is behind this relatively abrupt cultural shift. People, especially men, want access to sexuality apart from commitment and the very strict confines of marriage. One man with one woman for life is far too stuffy and a bit restrictive for the protégés of Hugh Hefner, James Bond, and Kid Rock. The culturally synthesized playboy wants the eternal freedom (and irresponsibility) of a tomcat prowling for kitties. Animalistic hedonism wasn't always so fashionable. Roll the American clock back 100 years, and the only sex available to any respectable man of 1910 was found solely in the marriage bed. As one thirty-something bachelor recently confessed, "If marriage were necessary for sex, every single one of my friends and I would be married."
But they aren't, because it's no longer necessary. In 1960, 68 percent of Americans in their twenties were married. As of two years ago, only 26 percent were. Fewer and fewer adults are traveling up the aisle of matrimonial commitment. And it's not because modern man has found a worthy substitute that logically replaces marriage and the traditional family, it's because he has found unrestrained and unlimited casual sex. The young college graduate of today is not contemplating finding a wife and starting a family, he's thinking of making his first million, in US dollars and in sexual conquests. "Hookup bars" will remain the great American pastime of the foreseeable future.
So in a cause and effect type relationship, sex is now more common and available than ever before, even as traditional marriage and family are less common and available than ever before, especially to the children who need them most. If traditional Biblical marriage truly becomes obsolete as 40% of Americans have so boldly declared, then law enforcement, criminal psychology, aggressive government regulation, mental health hospitals and every other public sector intended to stem the tide of chaos, will be robust growth industries. Our "tomcat culture" has produced a fetid litter box of non-commitment and innocent children with illegitimate parents. Marriage may wane, but it will never be obsolete.