However, the transformation of wives into economic clones of their husbands had the entirely predictable effect of sweeping away most of the remnants of the home economy, as harried employed women increasingly relied on the restaurant for meal preparation and the day-care centre for child care.
Encouraging “child-poor” families
But the obliteration of the economic distinction between husband and wife also inevitably suppressed the biological event that most forcibly defined gender complementarity: childbirth. Marital fertility plummeted in the 70s, pushing overall fertility in the United States below replacement level in what policy analyst Ben J. Wattenberg called “a birth dearth.” Although the US population continued to grow in the 90s because of immigration and increased longevity, the birth dearth continued as the number of DINK (Double Income, No Kids) marriages multiplied.
Though it worried Wattenberg and others, certain groups rejoiced in the disruption of the cultural pattern that traditionally made marriage the foundation for a “child-rich” family. For policymakers and judges in thrall to the Malthusian scare propaganda of a population explosion, the child-poor family was the ideal. In order to discourage married couples from having children, Malthusian policymakers deliberately turned tax policy against large families.
Meanwhile, an activist Supreme Court joined in the war against childbearing directly by creating a legal right to elective abortion (Roe v. Wade ). Further, the Court undermined the marital integrity that had previously given a married father legal standing in life-death decisions about his unborn children (Planned Parenthood of Missouri v. Danforth ).
Severing the link between sex and marriage
Judge-made policy not only helped sever the linkage between childbearing and marriage, but it also helped further weaken the already severely compromised link between marriage and sexual activity. Even if not subverted by pornography and licentiousness, sterile marriages of economic clones became contentious and unstable in post-Sixties America.
As Berry pointedly remarks, when marriage became merely “two careerists in the same bed,” it degenerated into “a sort of private political system in which rights and interest must be constantly asserted and defended.” Such a system actually turned marriage into a “form of divorce: a prolonged and impassioned negotiation as to how things shall be divided.” The radical redefinition of marriage during the latter decades of the 20th century—its legal, economic, and cultural decimation—largely accounts for the sharp drop in the marriage rate after the 60s.
By the 90s, marriage had lost so much of its cultural substance that it hardly seemed worth the bother to many young Americans. Between 1970 and 2000, the marriage rate dropped an astonishing 40 percent. Marriage became so culturally and socially marginal for Americans—heterosexual Americans—that in 1998 one social scientist declared that, in a development that was “novel, perhaps even unique, in human cultural history,” marriage had ceased to be “the definitive criterion for the transition to adulthood” in American society.
The sinking ship
It is in truth the cultural devaluation of marriage that explains why some homosexual activists have reacted to the recent push for homosexual marriage by asking, “Why should we scramble to get onto a sinking ship?” But most of homosexual couples now seeking to be married are doing so precisely because so much of the traditional freight of marriage—complementary gender roles, work in a real home economy, childbearing, sexual fidelity, permanence—has been thrown overboard as the marital ship has settled ever lower in the water.
The strangely de-natured and deracinated thing that marriage has become now appeals to homosexuals because it now offers insurance, employment, lifestyle, and government benefits, while imposing almost none of the obligations it once did. Opponents of homosexual marriage speak the truth when they protest that America makes a mockery of wedlock if it licenses vows for couples who can never have children (without resorting to surrogate mothers or sperm donors), will not resist the temptations to extramarital affairs, and will not preserve their union for a lifetime.
But commentators miss the point when they oppose homosexual marriage on the grounds that it “would undermine traditional understandings of marriage.” It is only because traditional understandings of marriage have already been severely undermined that homosexuals are now laying claim to it.