Still, for all of its monitory clarity about what could happen, Sorokin’s parking-space metaphor need have been nothing more than hyperbole. The average American family of the 50s and 60s resisted in significant ways the economic pressures undermining the home economy that had traditionally reinforced marriage. Though it had surrendered much, the American family still retained a significant core of its traditional autonomy and self-reliance.
Lamentably, America’s cultural and political elite—none of whom were activists promoting homosexual marriage—chose to subvert rather than renew marriage, not by advocating new rights for gays and lesbians, but simply by acquiescing to the economic processes tearing apart the traditional home economy.
After decades of such acquiescence, poet Wendell Berry could in 1990 fairly characterize the “typical modern household” created by a married heterosexual couple as something very like the “mere incidental parking place” which Sorokin had worriedly anticipated decades before—with exceedingly malign consequences for marriage.
“The modern household, [Berry writes] is the place where [a] consumptive couple do their consuming. Nothing productive is done there. Such work as is done there is done at the expense of the resident couple or family, and to the profit of suppliers of energy and household technology. For entertainment, the inmates consume television or purchase other consumable diversion elsewhere.”
The religious slide
But the assault on wedlock during the 60s and 70s reflected cultural forces deeper than economics, cultural forces at work long before homosexuals began their strange parade to the wedding altar. Although its immediate effects remained confined to a relatively small elite, the intellectual atheism which historian James Turner sees emerging for the first time in the United States in the late 19th century had become by the mid-20th century a relatively potent force, one that “dis-integrated” our national culture by denying religious belief its traditional function as “a unifying and defining element of that culture.”
Even among Americans who continued to go to church, sociologists witnessed the emergence of dubious new religious attitudes in the post-60s (but pre-homosexual-marriage) world. Pollster George Gallup reported in the 80s that many Americans who professed religious beliefs were beginning to “dodge the responsibilities and obligations” traditionally associated with such beliefs. Post-60s sociological inquiry indeed revealed that those still filling the pews were increasingly inclined to interpret “their religious commitments and beliefs in individualistic terms and less in terms of institutional loyalty and obligation”. Even American Catholics—previously distinctive for their deference to hierarchy and tradition—became “more personally autonomous and less subject to traditional mechanisms of social control.”
Because so much of the traditional understanding of marriage rested upon religious doctrines, eroding popular commitments to those doctrines could only undermine marriage and family life. Sociologists predictably see a close linkage between declining church attendance among young Americans and a rising willingness to engage in premarital sex.
Young women eagerly availed themselves of the Pill in the 60s and 70s largely because they were simultaneously letting go of the New Testament. Whereas only 29 percent of college age females reported having had premarital intercourse in 1965, that percentage had skyrocketed to 63 percent by 1985. In the post-60s world, young Americans were clearly taking their behavioural cues from someone other than St Paul.
Thus many heterosexual couples had made a bad cultural joke of the traditional symbolism of the white wedding dress long before homosexuals tried to make optional a wedding dress of any sort.
Even when heterosexual couples did wed, an increasing number did so unencumbered by the scriptural prohibition against adultery: in a 1983 survey of over 3500 couples, 15-26 percent allowed for “non-monogamy under some circumstances,” while a parallel 1989 British study of married adults found that “of those surveyed under age 35, over one fifth (22 percent) entered their first marriage with no belief in sexual fidelity.”
In 1991, British sociologist Paul Mullen warned that adultery was fast becoming “a participation sport indulged in by the masses,” as “citizens increasingly assume the right to change and vary their erotic attachments.”