Care, Need and Dependency in Society

February 4, 2009

Deinstitutionalization of Marriage

Filed under: changing intimacy — emilyt628 @ 1:36 am

What struck me most about this week’s reading was the apparent conflict over the institutionalization of marriage and love itself. In Coontz’s article (2005), she brings up the point that while “marriage as a relationship is taken more seriously and comes with higher emotional expectations than ever before…marriage as an institutions exerts less power over people’s lives than it once did” (278). Amato (2007), in a book that details the changes that have occurred in marriage over time, he discusses the idea of “reinstitutionalized marriage” (245), saying that while marriage may have once suffered from deinstitutionalization, that trend has stopped and possibly even reversed itself. Rosenfield and Kim (2005) speak of the dramatic increase in non-traditional marriages that “suggest changes in the basic structure of US society” (541), or more specifically the institution of marriage. And Derne, discusses the basics of love, which, in America, he believes centers around the structural foundations of the American institute of marriage. Many of these articles hint at the fact that marriage, specifically in America, is deinstitutionalized. Coontz even goes so far as to claim that “there is no question that marriage had lost its privileges legal and cultural position in the US by the end of the 20th century” (272).

This claim however, seems to disregard the facts of institution that Coontz herself speaks of in her article. Coontz speaks of the gay-marriage debate, which, as we all know, is still going strong and very controversial in today’s society. Rosenfeld and Kim make distinctions between “traditional” and “non-traditional” marriages. This to me, says that marriage is still very much a well-founded institution with strict regulations as to who is considered married and who is not. Coontz’s article speaks of a businessman who is fine with gay couples having the same right as he and his wife, but not comfortable with them being allowed to use the label “married” (275). Marriage is still so engrained in his mind as a very specific sort of institution, that anything that deviates from that should not be allowed to use the label of marriage. Derne talks about the fact that love itself is centered round the idea that marriage consists of a “clear, enduring feeling for a unique special person” (283) and how that love is based on the structural institution of American marriage.

The institution of marriage has obviously changed (cohabitation, gender roles within marriages, etc.), but I do not think that it has ever or will ever be fully deinstitutionalized. Coontz speaks of how marriage “used to be a part of entering adulthood” (276), hinting at the thought that it no longer is a part of that process. But in my own experience, that of my interactions with friends, family, and community members is that marriage is still expected to be a part of my own entry into adulthood, and that of my peers. I know that the way that my marriage will run is in no way similar to the way that my grandparents may have run, yet it is still important to me as an institution. I do want to argue with Amato’s vision of the future of marriage. While I believe that marriage is still an institution, I do not agree with his almost frighteningly over-traditional ideal of a reinstitutionalization of marriage. The idea that a stable, heterosexual, two parent family is the “best way to raise youth to become wealthy, competent and well-adjusted adults” (263) is unrealistic in our society. Marriage still has rules, but with the amount of diversity in our society, there is no way that there is going to be one specific way that it can apply to everyone. I think Coontz said it best when she said that all of the differences between people that are getting married in modern society “make one-size-fits-all social policies [about marriage] unhelpful” (292). Marriage, while it remains an institution, has shifted and become more fluid in is structure, but still maintains a firm foundation in our society. 

I uploaded this link to an article on a new show on CBS called “Arranged Marriages” – a reality tv show where friends and family pick a husband/wife for a show contestant. Relates to the difference in finding love before marriage or letting love grow after marriage that Derne talks about in his article…



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