Connubial bliss in America
Behind the politics of gay marriage, a widening social acceptance
Jul 30th 2011 | from the print edition
AMERICA is the country, said Alexis de Tocqueville, where the bonds of marriage are most respected and the concept of connubial bliss “has its highest and truest expression.” If the French aristocrat were to revisit America’s capital today, he might at first glance think his observation had withstood the test of time remarkably well. Not content with having in 1996 put a Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) on the statute book, Congress has now begun to hold hearings on a Respect for Marriage Act. Defended, respected: what could possibly ail marriage in America?
Plenty. As the revisiting Norman would swiftly discover, Americans today are better at quarrelling about what marriage is and who should be allowed to enjoy its benefits than they are at the more demanding work of getting and staying married themselves. The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia points to a widening “marriage gap”. Traditional family values are enjoying a revival among better-educated Americans, but are fraying in the lower middle class and have collapsed among the poor. As for laws “defending” and “respecting” marriage, these are merely weapons in a battle that has rolled back and forth for more than a decade between those who say that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry and those who abhor the idea.