Restoring a Marriage Norm
Marriage is in decline in America, to the detriment of individuals and society alike, and yet we do essentially nothing about it. In this paper, I contest the common view that little should be done.
Among the many causes of the problem, the most important is the erosion of marriage as a norm. Marriage is still honored in theory, but this value is no longer morally binding. For marriage to recover it must again become a norm that people feel they have to observe.
The great fact about expert discussions of marriage is their defeatism. Most scholars of the subject describe the decline of marriage, but they are resigned about it. Few if any suggest any solutions. This reticence is surprising in light of the damage that the fall of marriage has done to America. How do we explain this inhibition, and how could we turn it around? This paper is a reconnaissance into that forbidden territory. I briefly describe the marriage norm and the decline of marriage, including its costs and possible causes, but I concentrate mainly on the moral assumptions that leave us helpless to respond. I argue that marriage should once again be a norm that we seriously expect people to observe, and to achieve that is politically more feasible than we may think.