Putting the bed-hopping days behind us

While gays push to marry, heterosexuals fear commitment.

By
June 27, 2011 23:39
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Now that the tide has apparently turned in favor of gay marriage, with America’s second most-populous state permitting it, it’s time to put the debate behind us and focus on more important things, specifically saving American marriages.

Yes, I know. The opponents of gay marriage have been saying they were doing just that, that their sole intention in obsessing over the issue for three decades was to protect the institution of marriage. But gay marriage has nothing to do with heterosexual divorce, and the real crisis in the American marriage is not that people of the same sex want to get hitched, but that people of opposite sexes don’t want to stay together.

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Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York told CNN: “I’m very sorry that our opponents succeeded in reducing this to anti-gay sentiment. It’s not. It’s pro-marriage, it’s not anti-gay.” I respect the archbishop, but why wasn’t he simultaneously calling for legislation that would make marital counseling tax-deductible in New York, and why hasn’t he launched a crusade to halve the number of divorces in New York state? Is it reasonable to believe that the only way to save marriage is to stop homosexuals from participating? My parents divorced when I was eight. There were no gays around to blame. It was mid-1970’s America; homosexuals scarcely came out of the closet, let alone married; the very thought was inconceivable. My parents did not argue because they saw two gay women holding hands at an airport. They did not bicker because a rainbow flag hung outside a bar in our neighborhood. They did not decide to end their marriage because they could not agree on how marriage should be defined. Rather, their marriage ended because it ran out of love.

Their split scarred me for life, just as it does many children of divorce, as a newly published study in the American Sociological Review demonstrates. The study found little to no impact on children prior to divorce, but significant decreases in math and social skills at the time of and following the divorce, which gives the lie to the belief that children are worse off hearing parents fight than seeing them divorce. And no, I do not believe parents should stay together for the sake of their children.

Children should not be jailers. But neither do I believe we should fool ourselves about the effects of divorce on children.

My parents love me and did not want me to suffer. But they could not – or chose not to – get along. I have since devoted much of my life to keeping families together, and regularly counsel marriages in crisis. In the 22 years I have done so, no straight couple has ever told me their problems stemmed from gays wanting to marry. In most cases, the marital unhappiness resulted from falling out of love , or one of the partners being unfaithful.

Money problems may have eaten away at the fabric of the relationship. Parents or other family members might have caused friction. Or the pressures of life may have made it impossible for the couple to spend quality time together. But none of the problems I have counseled could be traced back to gay marriage.

The truth is that the 30-year fight over gay marriage has been a massive distraction for America that has prevented us from focusing on skyrocketing divorce.

When consumer insatiability nearly destroyed our economy in 2008, we responded by squabbling over Proposition Eight in California. And as New York State and New Jersey slowly go bankrupt through out-ofcontrol government spending, the state legislatures still bicker about gay marriage.

THE PASSING of the gay marriage bill in New York State has now provided an opportunity. Now let’s focus on what the bill says, which is that even in a secular age where premarital sex and living together are what the majority choose,marriage is still important. Most people, even those being condemned for it, still want to be married.

The bill says, whatever you think of gays wanting to marry, that the human condition is such that people want to be with one person forever. That monogamy is the way we all ought to live. That love is real and commitment glorious. That no person wants to be alone.

That love and romance are to be found specifically in an institution that promotes fidelity, and that living together in some undefined status – relying on emotional whim rather than rock-solid commitment – is insufficient.

Indeed, one of the strangest things about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s fight to legalize gay marriage is that he has chosen not to marry his own girlfriend Sandra Lee.

And while that is his business, it does beg the question why, if he believes marriage is so important that all should enjoy its blessings, he hasn’t chosen to make the commitment himself.

MY TRADITIONAL readers will find it scandalous, but is it possible that the victory of gay marriage is actually an opportunity to bolster traditional values? When I was a rabbi at Oxford for 11 years, those most likely to champion gay marriage were the ones least likely to marry themselves. They were liberal and unconventional and frowned on institutions, especially religion, which they found oppressive. They believed marriage was outdated, and monogamy unworkable. Marriage lacked passion, and its sole function seemed to be the raising of children.

Worse, it did not work. Every couple they knew was either divorced or miserable.

Now, the considerations have changed. Marriage is where the action’s at; sleeping together without commitment has been discarded by society in a huge legal brawl that has seen marriage triumph. So give up, you bed-hoppers.

High school is over. It’s time to grow up.

The writer is the international best-selling author of 25 books, most recently Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. (Basic Books) and the winner of the National Fatherhood Award. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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