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Will staying unmarried save your relationship?
Plus: Camille Paglia sparks new "Sensation" debate; should technology change the way we have children?

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The case against matrimony
BY LARISSA PHILLIPS
(11/18/99)

How does Larissa Phillips think that by not getting married her child (or children) will be protected from the trauma of losing a live-in parent? Most parents, married or not, are intensely committed to their children for the long term. But children need their parents to be committed to each other in the same way. And marriage is nothing if not a long-term, intense commitment.

Marriage is a tough gig. So is being a child in a family where adults just can't seem to stay committed to their spouses.

-- Anne Lewis

Larissa Phillips concludes her rant against her boomer parents' narcissism by blaming them for the rise in divorce. Actually, the rise in the divorce rate in the United States occurred in the 1940s, not the 1970s. The World War II generation, not the boomers, were the first to break their marriage vows on a wide-scale basis. The boomers were just following their parents' example.

Secondly, the rate of divorce, like the rate of marriage, is down. Divorced peaked in the early 1980s and has slowly, steadily declined. Many boomers, having learned how dreadfully painful divorce was the first time, have worked hard to avoid being repeat offenders.

Don't get me wrong: The boomers have plenty to be held accountable for in screwing up the social fabric. They have, in their incompetence, created blissfully ignorant creatures like Phillips. If she has a child and a mortgage and is living with the father of the child, she is, in the state of New York, a common-law wife -- whether she likes it or not. In the eyes of the state, she already are married.

-- Carl Steidtmann
New York

Larissa Phillips thinks marriage is outdated and passť. She should try being a divorce attorney. Do you know what I've seen in the last 10 years? Marriage, even if it ends in divorce, still protects women to a certain extent. It allows the less financially secure spouse, usually the woman, to put in a claim for property division, spousal support and child support upon the relationship. If Phillips has never been married, she will lose many legal rights that married people now enjoy. If the father of her child dies and he hasn't made up a will, guess who gets the property through intestate succession? It won't be her. It may not even be their child if they've never bothered to establish paternity. I hope that distant cousin of her boyfriend enjoys her boyfriend's interest in their house after the boyfriend "kicks off."

Obviously, I'm being a little flippant -- but like it or not, Phillips is losing out and is causing her child to lose out on some legal protections by not tying the knot.

-- Karen Moskowitz
Little Rock, Ark.

I am a 28-year-old from a "broken home." I view the institution of marriage with deep reservations, and currently am too emotionally exhausted to even date. I think that Phillips' observation that the boomers taught by example is valid; I also don't think it's the whole story.

For those of us who went through our parents' divorce, there is reluctance to go through that ourselves. But from a generational viewpoint, I think we really don't know what marriage is really for. Commitment is not the problem; most of us want long-lasting relationships. But we also know the reality: Not all relationships are long-lasting and there are no absolutes. I think my generation does not view marriage as something that either establishes such a bond, or promises that such a bond will hold. So the real question is, "What does the institute of marriage do for us?" Until we redirect the premise of those time-honored vows, there will continue to be grave doubts about the usefulness of blowing thousands of dollars on a ceremony that just doesn't seem to buy what it used to.

-- Matthew Williams

Though some will undoubtedly be alarmed by Larissa Phillips' explanation for America's falling marriage rates, she represents over 11 million of us who live with unmarried partners in the United States today. Some unmarried couples will get married eventually. Some are unable to marry their partners (same-sex marriage, for instance, is illegal in every state in the country). And others, like Phillips and myself, choose not to marry because we are troubled by an institution with a failure rate as high as marriage's, and because of a wide variety of other political, religious, philosophical, and financial reasons.

Despite our considerable numbers, people in unmarried relationships rarely see ourselves as a community with common interests and experiences. Tired of having our fulfilling relationships attacked by outsiders' moral stigmas, religious judgments, flawed social science research and institutionalized penalties and discrimination, last year we decided to do something about it. Our national organization, the Alternatives to Marriage Project is working to create space for people like Phillips to connect -- and eventually to earn respect and support for our relationships and families.

-- Dorian Solot
Boston

Whither marriage?
(11/15/99)

I have been extremely disappointed with the "Whither Marriage" series. I was expecting an in-depth look at marriage, with perhaps demographic information on how marriage is changing in our culture; interviews with people about the challenges and joys of marriage; conversations on how to make marriage work; maybe something on the growing movement to legalize same-sex marriages. (A topic dear to my queer little heart.)

Instead -- with the exception of "A Cooler Head Prevails" -- the articles have all been shallow, flippant and predominately concerned with sex, infidelity and dysfunction. And the right-wingers think they need to protect the institution of marriage from people like me? It needs more protection from the cynical attitude of people like you.

-- Eris Weaver
San Rafael, Calif.

Next page | Camille Paglia doesn't get it: Elephant dung is not to Catholics what swastikas are to Jews



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