(M)any still place a high value in the traditional definition of marriage—even if it's the highly publicized marriage of a self-interested reality TV star.
Kim Kardashian filing for divorce 72 days after her wedding was the hook for a substantial article on marriage in Macleans magazine last week. The three-pager, entitled "Young, divorced and stigmatized," suggested that society was heading in a "more marriage-minded direction," citing as evidence declining divorce rates and a more cautious approach to marriage. Glancing at the graphic which showed that being religious, university-educated, over 25 on your wedding day, having a child seven months or more after the wedding, earning over $50,000, and coming from intact families were all significant factors for a lasting marriage, I quipped to my wife of 22 years that we were playing it safe: all of the factors were in our favour.
But the embedded subtext of what might seem a good-news story about the increasing importance of marriage is a bit more sobering. Many of those who are considering marriage today have experienced the break-up and divorce of their parents. They have no intention of making their offspring endure what their parents put them through. Some are avoiding marriage altogether and simply cohabiting, but as these relationships hit their potholes, they are finding that "leaving these relationships can be complicated and painful too."
The cultural conversation about marriage is a bit disjointed. Losing the same-sex marriage debate (at least from a public policy point of view) has pushed many defenders of traditional marriage into retreat. Many on the other side of debate found themselves uncomfortable on the "conservative" side of the definitional debate and breathed a sigh of relief, however, last week when a B.C. court ruled that polygamy was not a constitutionally-protected right. Most would argue for some rules regarding what marriage is or isn't, even if we are having trouble agreeing on what those rules might be.
However, if you can get past the theories and start talking about people and their pasts, my sense is that an increasing number of Canadians are being mugged by the reality of their own experiences. After a few decades of seeing that divorce is nasty and expensive, that families divided among various houses creates pretty complicated social arrangements, and that the emotional consequences of broken relationships fuel a bitterness and emptiness that you can't just "get over," many are having second thoughts.
Macleans may have overstated Canadians' "high value in the traditional definition of marriage"; definitional debates are still likely to get you into a bit of hot water and I fear the traditional team whose colours I prefer to wear may still be on the losing side. But I think more and more Canadians are finding that what seems easy in theory is much harder and more painful in practice. They may not yet be in favour of marriage, but they are increasingly afraid of divorce and its consequences.