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Reframing the Marriage Debate

Listening to the political debate in Washington, you’d think the only important question about marriage is whether there’s any valid reason to bar gays from it. Few pay attention to the basic health of the institution we’re all fighting over.

David Blakenhorn is an exception. He and his colleagues at the Institute for American Values are calling public attention to the decline of marriage in the United States, and the profound social and economic implications it entails. They’ve just issued a call for a “new conversation on marriage,” which I’ve been pleased to endorse.

Our statement underscores that the erosion of marriage among non-college educated Americans (not just the poor) is reinforcing other baleful trends – wage stagnation and the concentration of economic gains at the top of the economic pyramid – that are deepening class divides in our supposedly classless society. And yet:

This hollowing out of marriage in mainstream America is among the most consequential social facts of our era. It’s contributing to the growth of inequality, harming countless children, and weakening, perhaps fatally, our formerly strong middle class. And amazingly, if you listen to political leaders of both parties and opinion leaders from both the left and right, you’ll discover that very few of them appear even to have noticed what’s happening.

The appeal ends by challenging the fatalistic view that the decline of marriage is some kind of historical or evolutionary inevitability. Marriage is an organic social institution, and we can take intelligent steps to strengthen it. By reframing the marriage debate, this statement begins that vital process of renewal.


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