A Better Question
The dual events of Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage and the North Carolina amendment has inflamed Internet comment streams on the subject. The debate is predictably about rights, access, equality, morality, separation of church and state, etc.
The larger question is usually not asked, “What is marriage for?”
The American answer to that question is “happiness” and this of course is the warm water that fuels the hurricane of the debate.
We might add a bit of light to the heat if we start swapping other things into the same question, give it the same answer, and see how we feel about it.
Q. What is a car for? A. Happiness.
Q. What are children for? A. Happiness
With the car question I get images of a guy (mostly) who is spending his time, money, energy, and investing his ego into a set of wheels. His reflected-self mechanism is fully engaged and he is deriving identity from that car within an imagined and perceived cultural context. If that guy has other responsibilities in his life, a wife perhaps, children, friends and family, we might begin to question where “happiness” is really what a car is for.
“Children” is of course an even more complex answer because with that answer we begin to realize that the equation is anything but simple. We also realize that if children are loved merely for happiness’ sake larger problems develop. We pull back from this because we realize that “having children” cannot be approached as we approach consumer goods. Children are not consumer goods and the parenting relationship needs to be far more nuanced and complex.
Identity: Happiness through a vision of a reflected self
To delve a bit deeper we can begin to see that the goal of “happiness” for marriage, cars or children has a lot to do with the reflected-self and identity. The power of a car to make us happy, beyond simple utility and comfort, is its power to impact our perceived identity. Nearly every car commercial plays to this. Cars can make us appear and feel (these are connected) powerful, wealthy, attractive, important, great. We will go to great lengths to attain these assets of identity far beyond what we will to acquire the simple utility of a motor vehicle to meet transportation needs.
Now how about children? Don’t we have children to address deeper identity issues and narrative issues? We all recognize, however, that when we do so, children suffer.
Marriage in America has become an identity devise for reflected selves in pursuit of happiness. This cultural value changes marriage, happiness and its outcomes and is leading to the same sex marriage debate, rates of out of wedlock cohabitation, and our high divorce rates.
If we ponder this reality some other realities, such as Andrew Cherlin noted. He writes.
Marriage is our battleground. Only in America, Mr. Cherlin says, are gay people campaigning so determinedly for the right to marry. Most gay men and lesbians in Europe, he maintains, view marriage as another oppressive heterosexual institution.
So what is marriage for?
For more see the follow up posting “Why anything you want it to be for” isn’t a good answer.