According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, nearly four in 10 Americans think marriage is becoming obsolete.
By contrast, in 1978 a mere 28 percent of people believed the same. (Of course, 28 percent of the respondents in 1978 also thought that Pete Rose should take more gambles.)
I fear the pessimism is not unwarranted. U.S. Census data released in September shows that marriages hit an all-time low of 52 percent for adults 18 and over. Cohabitation ("living together") has doubled since 1990. Four in 10 children are born to unwed mothers.
Only 29 percent of respondents found the growing variety of family living arrangements "troubling." The 21st century never fails to amaze me. You can get into knock-down, drag-out fights over Scrabble definitions; but the family, the basic building block of society, gets a different definition with every change of barometric pressure. America: The Land of Opportunity (For Shutting Up And Getting Used To It).
Flouting old-timey morals has become quite the status symbol. ("Dad, the Joneses next door have a more enlightened view of postmodern family dynamics. When can we get one? Huh? Huh?")
"USA Today" described marriage as "increasingly optional." That has such a ring (or lack of ring) to it, doesn't it? ("I like the option of growing old with the person who chose to wear my name. No, wait -- I think I'll take the optional tinted windows and leather seats instead.")
People find a traditional marriage offering them less and less. If those researchers at 3M ever figure out how to manufacture synthetic in-laws, all bets are off. (Sorry, Pete.)
The problem has spread to Las Vegas wedding chapels. Countless numbers of citizens have awakened after a night of debauchery only to learn that they have... signed an agreement to "split the utilities and stuff."
Considering how far the institution of marriage has fallen, one has to wonder about the relevancy of the Defense of Marriage Act. Makes you think Congress should have paired it with the Defense of Betamax Tape Act, or the Arm The Dodo Birds Act.
I've heard all the rationalizations for cohabitation, such as "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" (Of course nowadays this would be "Why buy the cow when you can get an enhanced pat-down at the airport for free?") How heartwarming to think of generations of proud papas telling their sons, "Son, when you grow up, I hope you find a cow as good as your mama..."!
Let's not forget the old chestnut about "A marriage license is just a piece of paper." I'd like to see some of those jokers get their comeuppance. ("I know you'd like the 50 million dollar jackpot, sir; but your winning lottery ticket is just a piece of paper, after all.")
Will marriage be kept on display as a quaint reminder of times past, like the British monarchy? We may want to break the glass on the display case and put marriage back to use when we realize the impact of the broadened definition of family on the survival of the human race. ("Wait a minute. I just realized that your grandmother's stepsister's godson's podiatrist's ex-old lady's parole officer is the same as mine. I have to stop seeing you. It would be like incest!.")
Note: Danny Tyree welcomes e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.