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Copyright 2000 Omaha World-Herald

Reprinted with permission

November 5, 2000, Sunday SUNRISE EDITION
HEADLINE: At Heart of Marriage Debate Are Ever-Changing Traditions
Marriage is a tradition that dates to antiquity and leaps across cultural
barriers. After decades of stress and decline, it remains the fondest desire of
most young people. But the traditions that define and shape marriage vary widely
according to generation, culture, religion and law.
If Romeo and Juliet were trying to wed in modern-day Nebraska, rather than
in the Italy of Shakespeare's imagination, they could not obtain a license. She
was only 14, and the minimum age for marriage in Nebraska is 17. However,
literature's most romantic pair defied a custom of their own time and culture:
Marriage was not a pact between passionate lovers, but between families, and the
Capulets and Montagues would never agree to such a match.
Though actors who played Juliet in Shakespeare's day would have been male,
the story was about a match between a male and a female, as marriage
traditionally has been in nearly all circumstances.
Nebraska's vote Tuesday on Initiative 416 is the latest struggle in a
decadelong battle over this mixed-gender tradition, waged in courts, churches,
entertainment media and voting booths. One side views different genders as part
of the essence of marriage, the endangered bedrock of the family structure. The
other side views the tradition as discriminatory, no more essential to marriage
than a bride's pledge to obey her husband.
If Nebraska voters approve Initiative 416, they will amend the state
constitution to recognize marriages only between one man and one woman. The
proposed amendment also says civil unions, domestic partnerships and other
similar same-sex relationships shall not be valid or recognized in Nebraska.
Rejecting Initiative 416 will not legalize same-sex marriages or other
same-sex unions. Nebraska law already defines the parties to marriage as male
and female and acknowledges no similar relationships. However, voting the
initiative down could allow the Legislature or courts to decide someday to
accept gay marriage or some form of same-sex union.
For gays and lesbians seeking greater acceptance in society and law, for
religious activists who feel homosexual relations are sinful and for many voters
in the conflicted middle, marriage is worth fighting over.

Without question, countless traditions surrounding marriage have changed

through the years and across the cultures: Few brides in the United States today
come with dowries; many brides do not take their groom's surname; many couples
marry without a chicken dance at the reception; brides who have lived openly
with the groom before marriage wear white; a wife no longer is regarded as her
husband's property.
Also without question, Americans have not accepted practices that conflict
with this society's prevailing views on marriage. Despite constitutional
guarantees of religious freedom, Mormons were not allowed to practice polygamy.
Two Iraqi men in Lincoln were imprisoned for sexual assault in 1997 after
marrying teen-age girls.
The critical question is where same-sex marriages belong. Should they remain
taboo, such as polygamy and incestuous marriage, or should this barrier fall,
like the ban on interracial marriage?
For this story, The World-Herald interviewed more than a dozen local and
national experts on marriage, scholars, clergy, advocates and family counselors
with varying views on same-sex marriage. The interviews and several reports
dealing with marriage gave conflicting views on a wide range of issues but were
unanimous on this: For better or worse, marriage is an institution that has been
durable but continually changing and one that faces many threats unrelated to
same-sex unions.
In light of the rates of divorce, cohabitation and births out of wedlock,
"you have to say that marriage as an institution is in serious crisis at the
moment," said Maggie Gallagher, co-author of "The Case for Marriage."
Marriage in its many forms has been with us longer than the written word.
"Once people began to discover that reproduction involved both male and
female, they developed means to keep that male and female together," said
Richard Potter, an associate professor of social work at Dana College in Blair,
Though marriage is a civil contract under Nebraska law, it is a sacred
covenant in virtually every religion.
In the Christian and Jewish traditions, marriage dates to Adam and Eve. Many
cite the second chapter of Genesis (which Jesus echoed in the 19th chapter of
Matthew) as the scriptural foundation: "For this reason a man will leave his
father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."
A variety of customs, definitions and requirements grew from that beginning
and similar beginnings in other faiths. For centuries in European culture,

before the Council of Trent in the 16th century, marriage began and was
consummated with a sometimes-secret betrothal, when a couple would pledge to
marry, said Michael Lawler, director of Creighton University's Center for
Marriage and Family. The public wedding would follow, often during the pregnancy
or after the birth of a child.
"Fertility was so important in marriage that there would very seldom be a
wedding without a child on the way," Lawler said.
When people call marriage the foundation of society, that is more than a
statement of values. In most cultures, the family has been "an economic
production unit," said Alan Booth, a Penn State University sociology professor.
When society was largely an agrarian one, couples "had lots of children
because they were workers and they needed them to work the land," Booth said.
Trades and crafts often were practiced in or near the home, with a wife aiding
her husband and children following their father into his trade. With the
Industrial Revolution, men left their homes to work, increasing the wife's
responsibility for the home and children.
Of the many customs that have been associated with marriage, two taboos that
frequently arise in the debate over same-sex marriage are polygamy and
interracial marriage.
Both sides like to bring up polygamy. Opponents of same-sex marriage note
that the U.S. Supreme Court in the 19th century upheld the states' right to
define marriage and outlaw polygamy.
Supporters of same-sex marriage cite polygamy to show that society's view of
marriage has always been changing. Some of the most vocal opponents of same-sex
marriage are evangelical Christians who believe in the literal interpretation of
the Bible and quote the Bible in condemning homosexuality. Lawler notes that
many important characters in the Bible were polygamists. David had at least
seven wives, and Solomon, revered for his wisdom, had 700 wives.
Lawler said Western culture did not view monogamy as essential to marriage
until Modestinus, a fourth-century non-Christian Roman lawyer, defined the
institution for the Roman Empire: "Marriage is a union of a man and a woman and
a communion of the whole of life, a participation in divine and human law."
Supporters of same-sex unions liken the ban on gay marriage to the longtime
bans on interracial marriage. In both cases, they argue, laws based on bigotry
prohibited marriage between people who loved each other and wanted to commit
their lives to each other.
Laws against interracial marriage continued a long tradition of prohibitions

against marrying outside one's own kind, except for gender. In the book of
Deuteronomy, Israelites were forbidden to marry the Hittites, Canaanites and
Girgashites. This was long interpreted as a ban on interracial or intercultural
Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush drew strong criticism this
year after speaking at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., which still
forbids interracial dating by students.
Various Christian and Jewish groups and leaders maintain explicit rules or
implicit expectations of followers to marry within the faith.
The ban on interracial marriage was not limited to the segregationist South.
Most states had such laws, said Peter Wallenstein, a history professor at
Virginia Tech University. Iowa had a territorial law banning interracial
marriage, but researchers at the State Law Library could find no evidence of
such a law since statehood in 1846. Nebraska repealed its ban in 1963. Four
years later, in a case called Loving vs. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court threw
out Virginia's ban, and in effect all such laws, stating that marriage is a
"basic civil right."
In overturning the Virginia law, which made interracial marriage a felony,
the Supreme Court cited the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection.
Gay-marriage activists cite the same principle in their legal arguments.
Loving vs. Virginia came in the midst of a revolution in marriage and family
In World War II, "Rosie the Riveter" became the symbol of women leaving
homes to work in factories while men fought the war. "Women entered the work
force and found they could do it and found they liked it and it was a hell of a
lot more interesting than being home with the kids," Lawler said.
While many returned home after the war to raise children, change was under
way and inevitable.
"In the'50s and'60s, you had the 'Leave it to Beaver' family," said Gary
Rosberg, co-host with his wife, Barbara, of "America's Family Coaches," a
syndicated radio show based in Des Moines. "They may have looked good, but on
the inside there was hurt, alcoholism, lack of communication, all the things
that trouble so many marriages today."
In the 1960s and'70s, women began pushing for equality in the home and the
workplace. Jobs "gave women their own economic security," Lawler said. "They
didn't have to stay in a marriage that was unsatisfactory."

At the same time, the sexual revolution erased much of the stigma attached
to cohabitation or childbirth outside marriage. Divorce rates, already on the
rise, skyrocketed when states adopted no-fault divorce laws, as Nebraska did in
1972 and Iowa in 1970.
June Cleaver, the happy housewife who always wore an apron and pearls, gave
way to Mary Richards, too busy and happy with her career to marry; to Clair
Huxtable, sharing parental responsibilities in a two-career marriage; to Murphy
Brown, raising a child without marrying; and to Erin Brockovich, struggling with
children after divorce.
By the late 1990s, only 56 percent of adults were married, down from
three-quarters in the early 1970s, Tom Smith of the University of Chicago said
in a report last year.
"Marriage has declined as the central institution under which households are
organized and children are raised," Smith wrote. While marriage remains a "core
institution of the American family," he said, "it no longer occupies as
prominent a role in either people's adult lives or in childbearing and
The social transformation resulted in growing numbers of "blended families,"
with children from either or both parents' first marriage mixed with a child or
two from the current marriage and possibly more from a nonmarital relationship.
Attendance at family gatherings depends on custody and visitation schedules.
"I didn't grow up with any blended-family kids," said Norm Thiesen, chairman
of the counseling department at Grace University in Omaha. "I didn't know they
The rapidly changing status and view of marriage were illustrated in the
life of Ronald Reagan. He was the first divorced man to be elected president,
and his second wife was two months pregnant when they married. Either fact would
have been an enormous liability a generation earlier, but voters barely noticed
or cared as Reagan became a popular president and an ironic hero to many seeking
to preserve traditional ways.
Reagan was followed closely by Bill Clinton, who won election despite one
sex scandal, was impeached over another sex scandal, and yet endured in both his
presidency and his marriage. At this year's political conventions, George W.
Bush and Al Gore reflected the nation's desire for stronger marriages and
families as they competed to demonstrate how much they loved their wives.
This stress on loving marriages by the presidential candidates reflects what
Diane Sollee, organizer of an annual nationwide Smart Marriages conference,
calls a "renaissance" for marriage.

In the face of all the gloomy statistics, she said, surveys of young people
invariably show "that a happy, long-lasting marriage is their number one goal."
Much of the debate of gay marriage boils down to a question of whether
same-sex couples are a reflection of the renaissance or a threat to it. "What
gay and lesbian couples want is in a sense very traditional," said Linda Waite,
a University of Chicago sociology professor who co-wrote "A Case for Marriage"
with Gallagher. "Everyone else is running away from marriage. They're running
toward it."
Separate from the issue of same-sex unions, Americans of varying political
and social viewpoints are rallying to the defense of marriage. Beyond the
religious and moral issues, they see this as a defense of the nation's children.
"The divorce revolution has failed," said a 1999 statement by the Marriage
Movement, an alliance of more than 100 conservative and liberal scholars,
advocates and leaders of religious and secular family-oriented organizations.
"Even when parents remarry, their children do no better, on average, than
children raised by single parents, and both do worse on all measures than
children raised by their own two married parents."
Mike McManus, president of Marriage Savers and a signer of the statement,
said: "If you just look at teen-agers in America, only 42 percent are living
with their mother and father. Do you find that shocking? I do."
Marriage is good for adults as well as children. "In virtually every way
that social scientists can measure, married people do much better than the
unmarried or divorced: they live longer, healthier, happier, sexier and more
affluent lives," said Gallagher, who is director of the Marriage Program at the
Institute for American Values.
Religious congregations, communities and secular organizations are
developing programs to improve education about marriage, better prepare engaged
couples for marriage, strengthen existing marriages and help couples in crisis.
McManus organizes Community Marriage Policies in which clergy and sometimes
judges pledge to develop marriage preparation programs and to require couples to
participate before their weddings.
Fremont adopted such a policy in 1998 to change a mentality where "too much
is made of the wedding and not enough is made of the lifetime relationship,"
said Phil Ronzheimer, pastor of Fremont Alliance Church. Lexington is the only
other Nebraska city with a Community Marriage Policy.
Several cities with policies have seen dramatic decreases in divorce rates,

McManus said. Many use FOCCUS, (Facilitating Open Couple Communication,

Understanding and Study) a questionnaire developed by the Archdiocese of Omaha's
Family Life Office, to help engaged couples identify issues they should address.
The "shotgun wedding" that once was common when an unmarried girl became
pregnant faded away, along with the stigma of single parenthood. Now even
marriage advocates argue against such weddings.
"The Catholic Church will not permit you to marry these days if you're
pregnant, without serious preparation," said Lawler, the Creighton scholar. "The
divorce rate in shotgun weddings is quite high."
In addition, churches and other organizations are developing marriage
enrichment programs and support networks. They train mentor couples to help
engaged couples, newlyweds and couples facing crises.
"We have churches that have virtually eliminated divorce," McManus said.
"This is a new day for marriage and an old day for divorce.