The End of Marriage in Scandinavia: Is America Next?
- Tuesday, February 17, 2004
Those statistics are further evidence of the breakdown of family life in Scandinavian countries. Without the moral, social, and legal obligations of marriage, couples are free to separate at will.
As a team of three respected Danish sociologists explained, "Marriage is no longer a precondition for settling a family--neither legally nor normatively.... What defines and makes the foundation of the Danish family can be said to have moved from marriage to parenthood." But, as a matter of social policy, parenthood without marriage simply does not produce the kind of stability necessary for the successful raising of children.
Scandinavia has been the center of cultural liberalism in Europe for decades now. Soon after World War II, those nations moved toward a general acceptance of the welfare state and the separation of public morality from Christian roots. Some historians point to the rather "thin" Christianity that marks many of the Nordic countries. By any measure, Scandinavian cultures are far more secularized than the other [largely secularized] nations of Europe--but those other nations are catching up.
The dominance of secularism means the explicit rejection of Christian morality and the loosening of all sexual morality. Kurtz traces this pattern with a specific concern for the separation of marriage and parenthood.
In his words, "In Sweden, as elsewhere, the sixties brought contraception, abortion, and growing individualism. Sex was separated from procreation, reducing the need for 'shotgun weddings'. These changes, along with the movement of women into the workforce, enabled and encouraged people to marry at later ages. With married couples putting off parenthood, early divorce had fewer consequences for children. That weakened the taboo against divorce. Since young couples were putting off children, the next step was to dispense with marriage and cohabit until children were desired."
Sound familiar? "Americans have lived through this transformation," Kurtz acknowledges. "The Sweds have finally drawn the final conclusion: If we've come so far without marriage, why marry at all? Our love is what matters, not a piece of paper. Why should children change that?" Someone had better answer that question.
The question points to the most important social value of marriage as it produces the context for the raising of children and the perpetuation of the human race. For millennia, humans have assumed that children need the stability, social legitimacy, and moral nurture of married parents. Only in recent years has that fundamental assumption been questioned--and the legitimization of unmarried parenthood has been a social disaster of massive proportions.
The Scandinavian picture is, we must acknowledge, somewhat different than the American model. Given the Scandinavian dependence upon the welfare state, inter-generational and extended family relationships are far less important to individual well being. Since the government supplies a basic level of economic support, young couples--including their children--do not require or expect support from the extended family.
The welfare state comes with its own incredibly high costs. Even as the Scandinavian economy is breaking under the strain of excessively high taxation, the welfare state demands higher and higher taxes in a never-ending cycle of dependency, spending, and governmental growth.
Since parents must spend so much time in the workplace, children spend a large amount of their time under the supervision of governmental or quasi-governmental caregivers.
How does all this relate to gay marriage? Kurtz demonstrates that the acceptance of gay marriage has accelerated the separation of marriage and parenthood and the breakdown of family stability. As he argues, "Gay marriage is both an effect and a cause of the increasing seperation between marriage and parenthood." This separation among heterosexuals has allowed gay marriage to become a conceivable reality. "If marriage is only about a relationship between two people, and is not intricately connected to parenthood, why shouldn't same-sex couples be allowed to marry?"
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