Too Late to Save Marriage

One Hand Clapping’s Donald Sensing has an essay in today’s OpinionJournal.

Since the invention of the Pill some 40 years ago, human beings have for the first time been able to control reproduction with a very high degree of assurance. That led to what our grandparents would have called rampant promiscuity. The causal relationships between sex, pregnancy and marriage were severed in a fundamental way. The impulse toward premarital chastity for women was always the fear of bearing a child alone. The Pill removed this fear. Along with it went the need of men to commit themselves exclusively to one woman in order to enjoy sexual relations at all. Over the past four decades, women have trained men that marriage is no longer necessary for sex. But women have also sadly discovered that they can’t reliably gain men’s sexual and emotional commitment to them by giving them sex before marriage.

Nationwide, the marriage rate has plunged 43% since 1960. Instead of getting married, men and women are just living together, cohabitation having increased tenfold in the same period. According to a University of Chicago study, cohabitation has become the norm. More than half the men and women who do get married have already lived together.

The widespread social acceptance of these changes is impelling the move toward homosexual marriage. Men and women living together and having sexual relations “without benefit of clergy,” as the old phrasing goes, became not merely an accepted lifestyle, but the dominant lifestyle in the under-30 demographic within the past few years. Because they are able to control their reproductive abilities–that is, have sex without sex’s results–the arguments against homosexual consanguinity began to wilt.

When society decided–and we have decided, this fight is over–that society would no longer decide the legitimacy of sexual relations between particular men and women, weddings became basically symbolic rather than substantive, and have come for most couples the shortcut way to make the legal compact regarding property rights, inheritance and certain other regulatory benefits. But what weddings do not do any longer is give to a man and a woman society’s permission to have sex and procreate.


[T]raditionalists, especially Christian traditionalists (in whose ranks I include myself) need to get a clue about what has really been going on and face the fact that same-sex marriage, if it comes about, will not cause the degeneration of the institution of marriage; it is the result of it.


Dean Esmay comments as well.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    same-sex marriage, if it comes about, will not cause the degeneration of the institution of marriage; it is the result of it.

    I hope he’s not suggesting a captulation on the issue. Accepting such is accepting a solidification of that denegrated status, permanantly.

  2. Dean Esmay says:

    It’s already denigrated, Bithead, and gay marriage won’t change that in any way.

    If you can figure out a way to make cohabitation outside of marriage and unwed motherhood go back to the way it was before the invention of the pill, do it. Blaming the homos for it isn’t going to change anything.

    It’s not “capitulation.” It’s pointing out that your’e fighting the wrong battle in the wrong place.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Exactly. The bottom line is that marriage, as it was conventionally understood, is essentially broken as a societal institution. That’s not to say that a lot of individual marriages don’t still conform. But there is no societal will to impose the old norms on heterosexual couples; there’s no logical reason to impose them on homosexuals, either.

  4. TM Lutas says:

    The solution is not to leave ‘the homos’ (as Dean puts them above) in peace to institute a large change to marriage but to fight them, beat them in the political and social arena, and structure that victory so that it can be used as a launching pad for further progress in reworking marriage to a better state, not a worse one.

    In the civil marriage fight, as in all other political struggles victory begets victory and defeat begets defeat. The existence of all these other challenges is probably the best argument there is for starting with the small challenge of gay marriage and moving to the larger challenges of the disasters created by easy divorce and cohabitation.

  5. James Joyner says:


    That’s just not going to happen. We’ve had two generations now where traditional marriage has been the aberration rather than the norm. We’re never going back to the days of people getting married right out of high school and waiting until then to have sex. I’m not sure we’d even want to.

  6. I don’t really believe that the old system created chastity: I believe it created lots of situations wherein people felt they “had to get married,” and did. To people they were horribly ill-suited to. And then the babies came along seven months later or whatever, and had to live the results of these unsuitable matches.

    I’ve been told that looking through the birth and marriage records of our Puritanical forebears in New England is quite instructive: first babies have always come early. What a diaster–for women *and* men.