Marriage and Divorce

Glenn Greenwald points to the news of Rush Limbaugh’s fourth marriage this weekend, as well as the fact that Newt Gingrich is on his third marriage, to argue that conservatives who oppose gay marriage and say that they are doing so to defend Traditional Marriage are dishonest.

They don’t really advocate the law’s recognition of Traditional Marriage, as they claim; rather, they only advocate that the law bar the untraditional marriages they don’t want to enter into (same-sex marriages) while recognizing the ones they do (multiple, serial “marriages”). The point is that one cannot oppose same-sex marriage on the ground that the law should only recognize Traditional Marriages, while simultaneously demanding that the law recognize third, fourth and other multiple marriages following divorce:  at least one cannot do so coherently.

Despite my serious misgivings about the circumstances behind Gingrich’s two divorces (I know next to nothing about Limbaugh’s three) and my belief that gays and lesbians should be permitted to marry, this strikes me as incredibly convoluted.  While there was no doubt a time when Traditional Marriage meant “until death do us part,” the fact of the matter is that marriage following divorce has been increasingly acceptable since the days of Henry VIII.

Over the weekend, responding to the sad news that Al and Tipper Gore are parting ways after nearly 40 years of marriage, Matt Yglesias argued that those calling it a “failure” are short-sighted.

If two people can be happy together for 38 years, during which time they raise a few kids, and then maybe be unhappy for two years and wind up realizing they want to get divorced is that really such a “failure”? It sounds okay to me. Kind of impressive, actually! As a society, I think we need to cut ourselves some more slack about this kind of thing. Failure is relative.

It seems to me that this ultimately wrong while being mostly right.   If the Gores’ marriage ends in divorce, that’s a failure.  A pretty big one, really, in that it failed to live up to the vow that they made to each other, their family, friends, and community.  But it doesn’t mean that the enterprise itself didn’t have many successes.

To use an analogy Matt may like, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone finishing their careers without winning an NBA title represents a kind of failure.   That doesn’t mean they weren’t all-time greats.

As noted in a previous post, my wife and I attended the wedding of some friends in Minneapolis this weekend.  One thing that struck me was that the vows were prefaced with “Is it your intention?” rather than “Do you solemnly vow?” or even “Do you promise?”   I don’t think I’ve heard that before but, really, it’s probably a more accurate statement of marriage as it now exists in Western culture:    The couple fully intend to build a life together and persevere through the inevitable difficulties ahead.

Are Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich hypocrites for proclaiming the virtues of Traditional Marriage after failing to live up to their vows?   Maybe.  But it’s more likely that they really believe in the virtues of the institution and just aren’t very good at it.

UPDATE:  One point made too obliquely above that I should spell out more directly:  What we think of as “traditional” marriage is in fact ever-evolving.   Even half a century ago, divorce was quite taboo; it’s so commonplace today that virtually no stigma is attached, even among fairly conservative people.   A quarter century ago, it was simply expected that the wife stay at home and raise the children if at all economically feasible; now, that’s fairly unusual.

I suspect that, less than a quarter century from now, same-sex marriage will be so normalized as to fit comfortably within the definition of “traditional.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    But it’s more likely that they really believe in the virtues of the institution and just aren’t very good at it.”

    Perhaps, but we’d need to see into their souls to know for sure.  Hypocrisy is about intent.  As you say, when the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, that’s not hypocrisy ….

    I wonder what Rush and Newt vowed the third and fourth times?
     
     

  2. Herb says:

    I hear Rush had Elton John singing at the wedding, too.  Don’t tell Greenwald!
     
    (I bet he played Tiny Dancer, too.)

  3. Franklin says:

    How much is Rush truly against gay marriage?  He had Elton John sing at this most recent wedding.  As I’ve said before, Rush is primarily an entertainer, and the more he riles up his anti-gay fanbase by taunting the making fun of the opposition, the more money he gets.
    Is he a hypocrite based on what he *says*?  Sure enough.  But I doubt he really cares that much about the issue.

  4. Glenn Greenwald says:

    “While there was no doubt a time when Traditional Marriage meant “until death do us part,” the fact of the matter is that marriage following divorce has been increasingly acceptable since the days of Henry VIII.”
    ___________
    This is a real mis-reading of history.  Even Henry VIII — who was, after all, the King — struggled extensively to justify his divorces, concocting claims to insist that the marriage he wanted to dissolve was invalid under religious doctrine.
    That’s because no-fault divorce — or simply getting rid of one spouse when you’re ready to move on to the next one  — was so unaccepted that not even the Sovereign could do it.  It certainly was not “accepted” to divorce your wife because you wanted to marry your mistress, as Gingrich did — twice.
    Moreover, “traditional marriage” generally refers to the Judeo-Christian tradition.  The New Testament is particularly clear that re-marriages following divorce are, except under the narrowest circumstances, invalid and adulterous.  If the only argument about “Traditional Marriage” is that it refers to what became acceptable over the last couple hundred years, then that’s hardly an argument at all.
    If we abandoned the taboo against divorcing and re-marrying, whey not abandon the taboo against same-sex marriage?  The argument falls apart once you start justifying it this way.

  5. sam says:

    “One point made too obliquely above that I should spell out more directly: What we think of as “traditional” marriage is in fact ever-evolving.”
     
    Yeah, well that’s just the problem for fundamentalist, family-values Republicans: They don’t believe in evolution.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    The religious views are not so certain as Grenwald claims.  Bills of divorce was known under the Law of Moses:

    “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.”  (Deuteronomy 24:1-2)

    When Jesus was asked about how this law could be reconciled with a condemnation of divorce, he seems to respond that marriage at the time of the Creation was intended to last until death, but G*d set down this law to Moses knowing that was not practical, “for the hardness of your hearts He wrote you this precept.”  (Matthew 19: 4-9)

    I won’t argue a specific interpretation of these, but I disagree with the notion that divorce constitutes some unforgivable event, or that divorce was treated the same as non-procreative sex.

  7. Ben says:

    PD:

    Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery. — Mark 10:11
    Whosoever putteth away his wife and marrieth another, committeth adultery. — Luke 16:18

  8. Matt says:

    Instead of asking whether gay marriage should be legal, we should instead be asking, why is marriage (a religious institution) even regulated by the state? The first marriage licenses were issued by states that were trying to prevent marriages of mixed race couples. Marriage and the regulation thereof should not be handled by the government at all, it should be a completely religious thing.

  9. Al says:

    First off, the state doesn’t regulate any particular religion’s institutions, Matt. The state just uses the same label.  Second, there’s way too much family law now for that to be realistic.

  10. Matt says:

    I didn’t say the state does regulate any particular religion’s institutions, though it could probably be argued that some liberal churches (unitarians?) are prohibited from performing same-sex marriages by the state. Secondly, how do the courts deal with common law marriages and other law involving unmarried couples? I don’t find that to be a valid barrier.

  11. just me says:

    Well the issue I see with all this, is that I don’t see gay marriages staying together to death any better than heterosexual ones do.
     
    Divorce is part of our culture now.
    That said, I am not opposed to same sex marriages, although I do think some kind of “civil union” type state recognition for all separate from religious ceremony makes the most sense.  I think there is a vested interest in the state recognizing and encourage stable relationships.

  12. Al says:

    Actually, all churches are banned from performing same-sex marriages in states where they’re not legal. Second, differently than married couples are dealt with. I’m not for embarking on the expensive and time consuming endeavor of upending family law just because especially religious people are bothered because their label got co-opted.

  13. Vast Variety says:

    “How much is Rush truly against gay marriage”
    Having Elton John sing at your wedding doesn’t undo all the hateful anti-gay crap Rush has spewed out over the years. It just means he has deep pockets.
    It was reported that he paid Elton John $1 Million to perform.

  14. Erin says:

    “That’s because no-fault divorce—or simply getting rid of one spouse when you’re ready to move on to the next one—was so unaccepted that not even the Sovereign could do it.  It certainly was not “accepted” to divorce your wife because you wanted to marry your mistress, as Gingrich did—twice.

    The New Testament is particularly clear that re-marriages following divorce are, except under the narrowest circumstances, invalid and adulterous.”         
    Glenn Greenwald

    This is absolutely correct–these remarriages are invalid and adulterous–Jesus said so. Remarriage is not a matter to be forgiven it is a matter of being in a marriage that is invalid to God—like Newt Gingrich, etc.
    The Pope’s recent comments addressing the issue of divorce and remarriage pertain to all of us–Catholic or not–because they are straight from the Word of God.
    Pope Benedict warned the bishops of the “irregular and dangerous situation” of divorced and remarried Catholics.
    “Only the first marriage exists”, he said, “there is no husband and wife in a second marriage, rather they are a man and woman living in adultery.”
    Why are some pastors so afraid to tell the people the truth? Do we need the Pope to speak out about the truth because we are too afraid?
    God will not join people to a second spouse after a “no fault divorce.” His Word makes that clear.
    Jesus said remarriage is adultery against the first spouse.
    “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.”
    —Jesus Christ
    Because remarrying after a divorce constitutes adultery, we must ask ourselves who are we committing adultery against if we are no longer married?
    If a divorce makes us single why are we committing adultery after a divorce?
    If we have no spouse after a divorce then who are we committing adultery against?
    The answer is obvious–we still have a spouse after divorce.
    http://www.cadz.net/links.html  
     

     

     

  15. just me says:

    Actually, all churches are banned from performing same-sex marriages in states where they’re not legal.
    This isn’t actually true.  There are several churches that have performed same sex unions for years.  Those unions are recognized by the church although the state doesn’t recognize them.
    But the state hasn’t banned any church from performing same sex marriages, the state just doesn’t recognize the marriage.  Some churches have prohibited their clergy from performing same sex unions, and some churches condemn same sex relationships in general, but not all churches do.

  16. PD Shaw says:

    Rush appears to be a member of the United Methodist church, which means he doesn’t believe believe that divorce is adultery or that remarriage is adultery.  Greenwald’s charge of hypocrisy is thus built on a foundation of misdirection.

  17. Juneau: says:

    “Yeah, well that’s just the problem for fundamentalist, family-values Republicans: They don’t believe in evolution.”
    Let’s see, the liberal’s idea of beneficial evolution in marital relationships is to eliminate this “old fashioned” concept;  that the best arrangement for continued propagation of the race is to have the two opposites of the species interact physically as they are biologically designed to.    Yeah, I can really get behind that kind of evolution.   Makes perfect sense – no intellectual disconnect there.

  18. sam says:

    Ah for Christ’s sake, don’t confuse a description with a prescription. After all, you “teach college”, the distinction shouldn’t be that subtle for you.