The iMapp Marriage News compiled by Bill Duncan is a very valuable source of current information relating to marriage and marital families. It reprints reports and articles about developments concerning and analysis of the status, incidents, benefits, burdens, alternatives to and changes in matrimony and matrimonial families. It presents encouraging and discouraging information, supportive and non-supportive data, and both traditional and nontraditional analysis. So it is a fair barometer of what the media is reporting about marriage and families.
The May 19, 2017 issue of iMapp Marriage News contains five interesting articles. Three of the pieces are about alternative marriage-like relationship forms (same-sex marriage, polyamory, and open marriage).
One of those stories breathlessly reports that a new Gallup poll found that sixty-four percent (64%) of Americans surveyed support the legalization of same-sex marriage. The poll was taken in May 2017, nearly two years after the Supreme Court of the United States ruled (5-4, by the narrowest possible margin) that all states must legally allow, permit, and recognize same-sex marriages.
The Gallup report itself, however, shows that less than half of all Republicans (47%) support same-sex marriage. Also, it reveals that Democrats’ support for same-sex marriage has fallen five percentage points (5%) in the past year. Moreover, support for same-sex marriage among Catholics has fallen four percentage points (4%) in the past year. So the data about public support for same-sex marriage presents a mixed picture with a very clear drop in support evident in the most recent surveys.
The article about polyamory (by Ashley E. McGuire) is reprinted from the National Review. It argues that the apparent contemporary enthusiasm for polyamorous relationships is just the latest cultural (at least media) fad to endanger women. The erosion of “the binary axis” of monogamy is described as “an institutionalized form of the hook-up culture – with women on call for male pleasure … .” So much for the myth of the benefits to women of “sexual liberation.”
The article about open marriages by George Hawley in the American Conservative responds to a “flattering portrayal of non-monogamous relationships” that was published in the New York Times. Hawley refutes some of the claims in the Times’ article by noting that opposition to a married person having sexual relations with someone other than his/her spouse is actually higher now (76% in 2016) than it was at the height of the sexual revolution (70% in 1973). The young today are more strongly opposed to extra-marital sex than their grandparents. The actual incidence of extra-marital relations is only two percent higher now (at 17%) than in the overall GSS surveys since 1991. (Opposition to pre-marital sex, on the other hand, has fallen nearly in half – from 36 percent in 1972 to 20 percent in 2016.) Hawley concludes by expressing his opposition to disintegrative trends, his concerns about the class and racial differences in those recent trends, but also his assessment that “open marriage” is not a major social phenomenon; the sky is not falling.
The other two articles in iMapp Marrige News address aspects of declining marriage rates. Professor Alan Hawkins thoroughly debunks a study by three Canadian sociologists published in the prestigious Journal of Marriage and Family that asserts that “marriage is undergoing a process of detraditionalization, which includes an openness to nonmonogamy.” Hawkins notes, however, that their data merely showed support for nonmonogamy in theory, but not in actual practice. Their sampling procedure was unreliable and biased; and their conclusion that further research was not needed defied both the evidence and the scientific method. Hawkins determines that: “Despite the big changes to the meaning of modern marriage, monogamy is alive and well.” He concludes that reports of the demise of monogamy “are greatly exaggerated.”
Finally, a Washington Post article claims that “the marriageable male” ideal – a man with a job, a steady income, and capable of supporting a child – is no longer considered essential in family formation. Child-bearing and –rearing out of wedlock are no longer stigmatized, and “marriage … is no longer seen as essential to a woman’s upward mobility.” The Post cited researchers who argue that “declining male employment, coupled with stagnating wages, can explain 27 percent of the drop in matrimony since 1980 … .” Clearly, the economic dimensions of marriage still have a very significant influence upon family structure in American society.
So the recent data and analyses provide both good news and bad news about the current state, status, and prospects for marriage and marital families. They show that many factors influence the vitality of marriage and of marital family formation. Some recent developments are troubling; others are encouraging for supporters of marital families.
Perhaps the most important insight that these stories provide is that family policies really matter. A family-friendly society is characterized by public policies that encourage, facilitate, and support the creation and maintenance of the institutions of marriage and marital families. The promotion of such pro-marriage and pro-marital-family policies needs to be a matter of priority in our state and national laws and governmental agencies.
Lynn D. Wardle is the Bruce C. Hafen Professor of Law at Brigham Young University. He is author or editor of numerous books and law review articles mostly about family, biomedical ethics and conflict of laws policy issues. His publications present only his personal (not institutional) views.