The Wheatley Institution

Six Key Lessons for Revitalizing Marriage

Jason S. Carroll
October 20, 2014

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If there's one thing I'm a believer in it is the power of blood sugar, so I will not stand between all of us and food for very long. First off, on behalf of the Wheatley Institution I want to thank all of our speakers today. As we thought about and planned today's symposium and considered a number of names, these individuals went quickly to the top of our lists, and we were thrilled that they could make schedules and arrangements fit for us. So join me once again in giving our appreciation to them and their remarks today.

I started the day with a nice, neat, clean page of typed notes, and I've since been scribbling and changing and amending. So what I thought I might do as a conclusion for us today is maybe highlight a few takeaways, hopefully, that we can ponder and think about in our ongoing discussion and efforts.

Takeaway number one that I hope each of us will take from today's discussion is that marriage matters: it is a public good, and it needs to be revitalized. We live in a day and age where the privatization of marriage—where it is talked about as something that is of the couple and by the couple and for the couple. Disconnected from the social good and the broader good is a dominant theme. I've always enjoyed the work of Linda Waite at the University of Chicago, and because she has the benefits of marriage and much of the research that we have talked about and mentioned today, her conclusion is that the scientific evidence is now overwhelming. Marriage is not just one of a wide variety of family forms, each of which is equally good at promoting the well-being of children or adults. Marriage is not merely a private relation; it is a public good. As marriage weakens, the costs are borne not only by individual children and families but by all of us.

Take-home point number two: the revitalization of marriage is broad and multifaceted. The conversation, as we've mentioned earlier today, focuses quite a bit on the legalization of same-sex relationships, and much of our conversation has pointed out and talked about that as well. But the revitalization of a marriage culture is much, much broader, and the devitalization of that culture has been happening for a very long time. So as we talk about patterns of cohabitation, of a near 50% non-marital childbirth rate in America today. Our conversations about pre-marital sexuality, historically high divorce rates—these patterns and trends all come together in many ways. So I would hope that that would be a part of our reflection and our view as well.

Take-home point number three: when it comes to discussing this matter with others, where you start will determine where you end. As I work with students and discuss this matter with others, what I see commonly is that often there's a sense of paralysis and not knowing what to say or how to respond or how to articulate a viewpoint, primarily because the discussion and the debate is set for us. And we start with the way that it's been set. I hope today you leave with a number of ways to rethink the setting of that conversation perhaps to articulate saying, "Whoa, there's a very different starting point." It's very common for this to be discussed as simply an expansion of marriage in our culture today, not a changing and a redefining as we've highlighted and emphasized. Often the language is the language of marriage equality, emphasizing the rights and the personal interests of adults when in actuality when we talk about marriage equality, what we probably should be focusing on is functional equality. I would agree with Dr. Waite's conclusion that not all forms of families are equally good at promoting the well-being of children, that functional equality and those functions of marriage and their needs tie into just that: the needs of children and what is ultimately that foundation. So the idea that this is fundamentally about change and discussing honestly and openly the change and the perceived benefits or detriments of that change is very different than simply stating that this is just an expansion and that nothing is happening that is different.

Take-home point number four is fundamentally that the change in the social and legal definitions do matter. I greatly appreciated Ryan mentioning the no-fault divorce example. It is one of our most recent examples of how those legal definitions do change. Occasionally we're tempted to shrug our shoulders and say, "What's the harm?" In language that may be familiar to all of us, there may be this idea of "if you like your marriage, you can keep your marriage." When fundamentally there is indeed change. I wanted to show, to highlight a personal, relevant, local example of this when it comes to no-fault divorce. When we see those changes in no-fault divorce altering the sense of permanence of marriage and historically high divorce rates and the divorce revolution. We now see a generation of young people experiencing the echo of that divorce. And in the location that some of us might think would never be touched by social definitions and legal changes. As the marriage preparation instructor here at BYU, I've spent the last several years talking intently with students on this campus about the increased sense of the fragility of marriage, the unpredictability of marriage, and the wariness that they feel in a culture and time stemming back to legal definitions and social changes that do start to indeed change how we think about marriage. So these things do matter.

Take home point number five is that there's a lack of academic integrity right now in how social science research on social structure and how it influences the well-being of children is being ultimately portrayed. A great example of this, and we don't have time to go into it in great detail, but we've made strong conclusions coming from what Dr. Regnerus and others talked about of a series of small unrepresentative studies and samples making the conclusion that there are no differences when it comes to children raised by same-sex parents. Yet simultaneously we've had studies that have been done with tens of thousands of children experienced in the context of adoption. Interesting to note that while the methodology of these two areas of research are dramatically different and the one so much more sophisticated and representative, the conclusion in that literature is not one of no differences, it's a conclusion of the acknowledgement of differences. And that parents and professionals and others need to acknowledge the reality of that context in the adoptive setting.

Now, of course these two are very, very different. Adoption acts as a post hoc mechanism in our culture. It's an after-the-fact. The child's now with us, what is the best that we can do? It's very, very different than a foundation where we would alter our marriage and consequently our parenting culture to intentionally and deliberately raise children in a context that would be without their two adoptive parents. But the researched literatures are being compared on very different metrics and very different lines, much of this having to do, as we've talked about today, with the ideologies and the social debates around it.

One last comment. Ultimately a key takeaway we would hope for is you would see in what has been modelled today by all of our presenters that civility matters. One quote that I'd like us to conclude on, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, in our most recent General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, made a key observation that, I think, as the events of the last few weeks unfolded became even keener and mindful for us. He highlighted that

Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious."

And then as a particular insight,

When our positions do not prevail, we should accept unfavorable results graciously and practice civility with our adversaries. In any event, we should be men of good will towards all, rejecting persecution of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief, or non-belief, and differences in sexual orientation.[1]

I commend our scholars and our presenters today for that model that they've shown us. There's been no name calling, there's been no turning to tactics that would ultimately, in my mind and I know in their minds as well, discredit the validity and the truthfulness of the concepts and the ideas that we've talked about.

My last final thought for you as well is also to think about the culture of marriage in your own heart. We've talked about this largely from a social perspective today and the broader social trends, but there is also the trend of how do we prioritize and value and what ways do we demonstrate theimportance of the very marriage culture that we espouse? For many of us, that turns to the intimate and the personal relationships in our own lives. To students on our campus, our dating culture and relationships of also will reflect ultimately in those pursuits as well. There's many ways that we demonstrate our commitment to the culture of marriage, some social, some political, many personal and very much in an intimate sense. Once again, we thank you for your participation today in spending time with us, and we'll give one last final round of applause to our speakers today.



References:

[1] Oaks, Dallin H. "Loving Others and Living with Differences." General Conference, October 2014.

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