Marriage in the Balance

This insightful guest blog post is from Caleb Casto, Regent Oxford Summer Program Student:                             


If there is any consistency for the future of marriage, it is that it is bound to change. The last century has seen great changes in the form and function of marriage, with the latest and ostensibly the most heated change being the recognition of same sex relationships as married couples. The terminology used by supporters of the LGBT movement is evidence of the democratic citizens' passion for equality of conditions. Mantras are rife with the claim of love of all kinds for recognition and equal treatment. While this is may be a recent event, the passion for equality which drives this has been brewing for centuries. Even in the 19th century, Tocqueville observes the passion for equality as an event which is "universal, it is enduring, each day it escapes human power."[1] He notes that this passion for equality inherent in democratic citizens is not only something which has been growing, but will continue to grow and gain momentum as the world becomes more democratic. He also warns that this momentum will grow so large that dissenters of the passion for equality will be denounced from the public square.[2] Tocqueville's concern is currently manifesting in the LGBT movement as the passion for the equality of all people, irrespective of sexual orientation, becomes the dominant voice in America, as its dissenters are denounced and silenced.

If in the past Tocqueville was able to give indications of the future, then the events of the past should be utilized as a guide for the future. What this means is that progress in a society, while it is natural and healthy, must be rooted in tradition. Economist Wilhelm Rӧpke addresses this by stating that the "predilection for movement and progress is an…indispensable counterweight [in society], but if it sets no limits and recognizes nothing as lasting and worth preserving, it ends in disintegration and destruction."[3] While he is right to recognize the importance that progress has in a society, he also rightly warns that it can be taken too far, and therefore becomes destructive upon society. He further explains that political movements "always sow the seed of their own destruction when they lose their sense of proportion and overstep their limits. In this field, suicide is the normal cause of death."[4] Rӧpke's warning is simply that if ideological and societal movements in a culture fail to moderate themselves, their excesses necessarily bring their own demise upon themselves.

This balance of progress rooted in tradition is vitally important when it comes to marriage. In some instances, progression in society's implementation of marriage is a good thing. One example is the recognition of women's rights. Up until the 20th century, women had no control when it came to divorce. Public policy measures sought to fix that. However, the solution of no-fault divorce ended up doing more harm than good because it undermined the necessity of the unity of the family concerning child development. The importance of this aspect of marriage can be found in studies such as in the Millennium Cohort Study, a longitudinal case study in the United Kingdom that has been observing around 19,000 children since their birth at the turn of the millennium. Some of the evidence found reveals that "children born to married parents exhibit higher cognitive and socio-emotional development at ages 3 and 5, on average, than children born to cohabiting couples."[5] This research emphasizes the necessity of child development under the banner of marriage as opposed to alternative establishments for child growth and care. The implication of Rӧpke's aforementioned statement here is straightforward. Policy that progresses the rights of women in society is to be lauded. However, if it fails to progress in moderation, and transgresses the traditional function of spousal unity for the sake of child development, it will destroy the institution it was meant to help.

Therefore, balance needs to be sought when addressing the imbalance between the autonomous spouse in marriage and marriage in the context of culture. The importance of community is vitally important as well, especially since marriage has been traditionally been considered a bulwark for society. However, it must be noted that just as society has taken the autonomy of the individual too far, so too can society take the rights of the community too far. This would consequentially defeat the purpose of reestablishing an emphasis on community. Rӧpke warns about this when he writes that "exaggeration of the rights of the community in the form of collectivism is just as dangerous as exaggerated individualism and its extreme form, anarchism."[6] While individual rights and community rights are both of the utmost importance, individual rights cannot be exalted to the point where community rights are practically dismissed, as contemporary American culture has tended to do. Nevertheless, policy which supports community to the point of collectivism will be just as destructive as policy which ignores communal rights due to its failure to moderate both individual and community rights.

Marital policy in the future must observe two things. Firstly, it must recognize the importance of marriage in the context of community and achieve a balance between the communal rights of marriage and the rights of the individual inside the marriage. Secondly, any progress which marital policy makes must be rooted in its tradition. Traditional societies understand marriage to be their cornerstone as an institution to protect the family, and provide a stable haven for child development. The democratic passion for equality gradually alters the way society views marriage. The growing equality of conditions leads to a decrease in attendance in communal organizations, which in turn prompts isolation in society. This isolation in turn leads to an increased awareness of one's self, which when applied to marriage, brings an overemphasis of hedonism as opposed to the recognition of marriage's cultural connections. This imbalance in the understanding of marriage only hurts its function in American society. Therefore, a holistic restoration of marriage must seek to reinstate a balanced perspective in American thought.

[1] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Introduction.

[2] Ibid., Vol II, Pt. 2, Ch. 1; Vol. I, Pt. 2, Ch. 7.

[3] Wilhelm Rӧpke, A Humane Economy (Chicago, IL: Henry Regnery Company, 1960), 90.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Claire Crawford et al., "Cohabitation, Marriage and Child Outcomes: An Empirical Analysis of the Relationship between Marital Status and Child Outcomes in the UK Using the Millennium Cohort Study," Child & Family Law Quarterly 4, no. 2 (2012): 176.

[6] Rӧpke, A Humane Economy, 90.

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