Focus on Saving American Marriage
by Shmuley Boteach
Now that the tide has turned in favor of gay marriage by America’s second most-populous state permitting it, it’s time to put the debate behind us and focus on more important things, specifically saving American marriage.
Yes, I know. The opponents of gay marriage have been saying they were doing just that, that their sole intention in obsessing over the issue for three decades was to protect the family and the institution of marriage. But gays marrying has nothing to do with heterosexuals divorcing and the real crisis in the American marriage is not that people of the same sex want to get hitched but that people of the opposite don’t want to stay together. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York told CNN, “I’m very sorry that our opponents succeeded in reducing this to anti-gay sentiment. It’s not. It’s pro-marriage, it’s not anti-gay.” I respect the Archbishop. But then why wasn’t he simultaneously calling for legislation that would make marital counseling tax-deductible in New York and why hasn’t he launched a crusade to cut the number of divorces in New York state by half? Is it credible to believe that the only way to save marriage is to stop the gays from participating?
My parents divorced when I was eight. There were no gays around to blame. It was mid-1970’s America and gays scarcely came out of the closet, let alone marry, the very thought being inconceivable. My parents did not argue because they saw two gay women holding hands at an airport. They did not bicker because a rainbow flag hung outside a bar in our neighborhood. They did not decide to end their marriage because they could not agree on how the institution of marriage should be defined. Rather, their marriage ended because it ran out of love.
Their split scarred me for life, just as it does many other children of divorce, as a newly published study in the American Sociological Review demonstrates. The study found little to no impact on children prior to divorce but significant decreases in performance in math and social skills at the time of, and following the divorce, which gives the lie to the belief that children are worse off seeing parents fight then seeing them divorce. And no, I do not believe that parents should stay together for the sake of their children. Children should be jailers. But less so do I believe we should fool ourselves about the effects of divorce on children.
My parent’s love me and did not want me to suffer. But they could not, or chose not, to get along. I have since devoted much of my life toward keeping families together and regularly counsel marriages in crisis. In the twenty-two years I have done so no straight couple has ever told me that their problems stem from gays wanting to marry. In most cases their marital unhappiness resulted from falling out-of-love or losing attraction, or one of the partners had been unfaithful. Money problems may have eaten away at the fabric of the relationship. Parents or other family members might have intervened and caused friction. Or the pressures of life made it impossible for the couple to spend quality time together. But none of the problems I have counseled could ever be traced back to gay marriage.
The truth is that the thirty-year fight over gay marriage has been a massive distraction for America that has prevented us from focusing on skyrocketing divorce, the growing culture of male womanizing, women feeling unreasonably old, fat, and unattractive, the fixation of husbands and wives on celebrity relationships that deprives their own marriages of oxygen, and the dumbing down of American through moronic reality TV. My God, we can’t even talk about runaway materialism in our culture. When consumer insatiability nearly destroyed our economy in 2008, we responded by fighting over Proposition Eight in California. And as New York State and New Jersey slowly go bankrupt through out of control government spending, the state legislatures still bicker about gay marriage.
The passing of the gay marriage bill in New York State has now provided an opportunity. There, it’s over. Now let’s focus on what the bill says, which is that even in a secular age where premarital sex and living together are what the majority choose over marriage, guess what, marriage is still important. Most people, even those being condemned for it, still want to be married. The bill says, whatever you think of gays wanting to marry, the human condition is such that people want to be with one person forever. That monogamy is the way we all ought to live. That love is real and commitment glorious. That no person wants to be alone, just as the Bible declared in the very first chapter of Genesis. That love and romance are to be found specifically in an institution that promotes fidelity and loyalty and that living together in some undefined status – relying on emotional whim rather than rock-solid commitment – is insufficient. Indeed, one of the strangest things about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s fight to legalize gay marriage is that he has chosen not to marry his own girlfriend Sandra Lee. And while that is his business, it does beg the question of why, if he believes marriage really is so important that all should enjoy its blessings, he hasn’t made the commitment to the woman he loves.
My traditional readers will find it scandalous. But is it possible that the victory of gay marriage is actually an opportunity to bolster traditional values?
When I was Rabbi at Oxford for eleven years those most likely to champion gay marriage were the ones least likely to marry themselves. They were liberal, unconventional, and frowned on institutions, especially religion, which they found doctrinaire and oppressive. They believed that marriage was an outdated and monogamy unworkable. Marriage lacked passion and its sole function seemed to be the raising of children. Worse, it did not work. Everyone they knew who was married was either divorced or miserable.
Now, the calculus has changed. We can now tell all the womanizers out there that sowing your wild oats is for cowards and marriage is universally acknowledged by both right and left, liberal and conservative, religious and secular, to be glorious. Marriage is where is the action’s at and merely sleeping together without love and commitment has been discarded by society in a huge legal brawl that has seen marriage triumph. So give up you boy’s and girl’s who devote themselves to bed-hopping. High School is over. It’s time to grow up and become adults.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 25 books, most recently “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” (Basic Books) The winner of the National Fatherhood Award and the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary, he is described by Newsweek as ‘the most famous Rabbi in America.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.