Barbara R. Bergmann Reviews 3 recent Book on Marriage

Posted by Kendall Harmon

From the Times Literary Supplement:

Marriage has served a crucial function in human society: it has been the means by which the male half of the species has been hooked into providing substantial amounts of goods and services to the offspring they engender, a duty from which their close relatives, the male chimps and gorillas, have been exempt. Human males have been burdened with this duty as a result of human cleverness. As we started wearing clothing, building shelters, using difficult-to-manufacture tools, herding animals, and moving into colder climates, human children needed more than they could get from just their mothers. The institution of marriage responded to this need with a pledge by a man to make contributions on a long-term basis to a woman and her children. In return he got her domestic services, plus a promise of exclusive sexual access, which gave him assurance that he had sired her children.

There has always been more to marriage than material provision to offspring. There’s nurturance, companionship, stability, passing down of property, family alliances, home cooking. And, of course, there’s love. Ay, there’s the rub – love is notoriously changeable. The increased freedom in the modern world to follow one’s heart wherever it leads has led some to an avoidance of new commitments and many to exits from previous ones.

Read it all.



Filed under: * Culture-WatchMarriage & Family

11 Comments
Posted June 27, 2007 at 7:39 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Deja Vu wrote:

This book reviewer has a strong bias. In referring to the Blankenhorn, she writes:

He quotes a Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, who wrote in a decision that brought gay marriage to Canada, “[I]t eludes me how according same-sex couples the benefits flowing to opposite-sex couples in any way inhibits, dissuades or impedes the formation of heterosexual unions. Where is the threat?”. David Blankenhorn responds that same-sex marriage would have the effect of withdrawing society’s “promise” that every child, in so far as possible, will be raised by his or her own mother and father. But, of course, it is the heterosexuals whose behaviour has already trashed whatever promise there was, and has put many children out into the cold. Any impetus given to the trend towards lone parenthood by the advent of gay marriage will surely be minor by comparison.


This dismisses my main concern about gay marrige with a “but of course” and “would surely be minor”.

June 27, 8:51 pm | [comment link]
2. Tom Roberts wrote:

This article was written to grind a certain axe. Not very sharp, but she sure did the grinding. I.e.
“These books don’t shed much light on what might be done, but the Bush Administration, under the influence of the religious Right, has a programme it hopes will reverse the decline of marriage. “

Where did GWB creep into the books? This supposed review of three books arises phoenix like as a commentary on American politics. The miracles just never cease.

June 27, 10:09 pm | [comment link]
3. libraryjim wrote:

Title should be
Barbara R. Bergmann Reviews 3 recent Books on Marriage

plural, not singular. smile

June 29, 1:53 pm | [comment link]
4. John Wilkins wrote:

Deja Vu, perhaps you might ask if the reviewer is correct rather than accuse her of a bias.  It seems pretty clear that divorce was increasing before homosexuality became the issue of the day. 

It seems to me you prefer to discuss the sins of homosexuals than the sins of heterosexuals.  If anything, this seems like an aspect of original sin itself:  a willingness to discuss evil in others rather than look inward at our own brokenness. 

Tom’s next comment doesn’t even evaluate if her observation is correct.  surely George Bush cares about the religious right and is pressured by them.  I mean, isn’t the religious right trying to pressure him?  If I were a right wing Christian I hope to my God they would be pressuring him, because he does tend to waffle on these sorts of things. 

It does, in my view, all go back to Christopher Lasch.

June 29, 4:33 pm | [comment link]
5. Deja Vu wrote:

#4 John Wilkins.
Because you agree with the reveiwers point of view, you cannot see her bias.
Heterosexuals agree about the brokeness of heterosexual marriage I don’t know of any denying it. We keep saying, look, we have a major problem here. Please don’t rock the boat now.
It is about kicking a cripple. It is about trying to grab the watch off the wrist of someone with a broken arm. Yes, it wouldn’t hurt so much if the arm weren’t broken. But it is still wrong to steal the watch.

June 29, 4:41 pm | [comment link]
6. John Wilkins wrote:

Deja vu - you can’t identify the bias.  It is in your mind.  I’m asking you to do some hard work here and tell me where it is.  All you can say is that you can’t deny it.  Then you say “don’t rock the boat.”  But I don’t know what that means. 

In my world, it means that I should encourage monogamy rather than promiscuity.  In your world, you would force gay people back into the closet.  Then you offer a useless metaphor.  “Kicking a cripple” has little use in the discussion.  If marriage is important, why do we think so little of it that we won’t offer it to others?  Perhaps because we know we can’t do it so well ourselves, as straight people.  Perhaps this is exactly what Jesus meant when he said Judge not.  Perhaps if you spent a little more time working on marriage really, gay people would be challenged to live their lives a bit differently.  As it is, we don’t set much of an example.  We just yap a lot about God without doing what he expects of us ourselves. 

yap yap marriage yap yap yap.  Its good for us, but you can’t have it.  Not that its really that good for us cause we don’t do it.  Yap yap yap. 

Feed something concrete to people struggling.  Don’t get ethereal, or psychological.  give them something physical.  Perhaps in your life, you’ve learned not to live with affection.  Tell us that story.

June 30, 2:25 am | [comment link]
7. John Wilkins wrote:

I would add that I don’t agree with the reviewer on some important points.  but I think she is, on the whole, fair.  I don’t know anyone who has given a good reponse - an empirical one - to the idea that gay marriage actually takes marriage more seriously than heterosexual promiscuity (or serial monogamy).

June 30, 2:28 am | [comment link]
8. Deja Vu wrote:

#6 and #7 John Wilkens

The Bias
The bias is in dismissing the argument against same sex marriage in the Blankenhorn book because marriage is already weakened due to heterosexual misbehavior.
The facts of the weakened state of marriage and of heterosexual responsibility for that weakened state are not reasons for dismissing the argument against same sex marriage.
The facts that a man was drunk and sleeping in the park are not a reason for dismissing the case against a gang who attacked and beat him. The facts that a woman was drunk and wearing a miniskirt do not mean she gave permission to be raped. And certainly the facts that a woman was drunk and dressed her little girl in a miniskirt do not mean that a man may rape the little girl. Crimes of opportunity are still crimes.

The Argument Against Same Sex Marriage
Now, the argument against same sex marriage in the Blankenhorn book is focused on the good of marriage for the biological children of the married couple. The argument is that marraige is an intergenerational institution for the benefit of the children.
Same sex marriage extends the mistaken direction that heterosexuals have taken marriage, treating it as a narcissitic good, for the erotic gratification of the adults.
So what if “gay marriage actually takes marriage more seriously than heterosexual promiscuity (or serial monogamy)”? It is still in the wrong direction. We need to refocus marriage back on procreation of children and child raising.
If we accept same sex marriage, we will have accepted children are second class citizens and marriage is about adult erotic gratification.

The Yapping Sound You Hear
If you are hearing only yapping, perhaps you should take your fingers out of your ears and stop saying “Yap Yap Yap, I can’t hear you.”

June 30, 7:57 pm | [comment link]
9. John Wilkins wrote:

Deja vu - that you compare gay people who see marriage as MORE than just sexual gratification to a gang that would beat the institution up demonstrates that you don’t understand how gay people see themselves.  A better analogy is that the gang wants to get drunk with the drunk.

A couple reasons why your analogy fails - there is no reason for gay people to get married, if they just want sex.  They can get that anyway.  If anything it is because they see marriage as more than just eroticism they seek it. 

I think the idea that marriage is an institution for the caring of children is more interesting, and true.  It does raise, of course, more problems analytically.  People tended to get married quickly not because they wanted children, but because they wanted sex.  Children are a natural consequence, obviously.

But you seem to insinuate is that sex for other reasons is… sinful.  People choose to have sex for lots of reasons.  What has happened is that technology and women’s choices have now separated sex from children.  I see that this is a problem.  But I don’t know how you would put the genie back in the bottle, unless you invited a sexual totalitarianism into the country.  Good luck with that.

Perhaps, in our age, people can get married for the purpose of children, as they can easily have sex before marriage without any consequences.  This doesn’t say much about how gay marriage hurts children.  It seems to me that gay people are adopting the children noone else wants - who can’t even get straight parents.  I recently met a lesbian couple who had raised three crack babies who were totally unwanted by the state.  I suppose that this is immoral and degenerate in some cosmic fashion, but I don’t see how.  Second, you implicitly reduce families that can’t procreate as second class citizens by assuming that only natural childbirth is holy. 

If you want to complain about the eroticization of our culture, I’d look to Madison avenue or Hollywood or the media conglomerates who know that sex sells.  You might want to critique capitalism and its drive to sell us more products.  Homosexuals are just a convenient scapegoat for the general corrupt system we’re in. 

Our culture hates children anyway.  Compare the amount we spend on our children to the amount we spend on the military.  As a culture we are miserly to the children in our midst. 

Don’t blame gay people for that.

June 30, 10:58 pm | [comment link]
10. Deja Vu wrote:

John Wilkins,

Deja vu - that you compare gay people who see marriage as MORE than just sexual gratification to a gang that would beat the institution up demonstrates that you don’t understand how gay people see themselves.  A better analogy is that the gang wants to get drunk with the drunk.

I am presenting how I see gay people. Their inability to see how their behavior and their demands will effect both heterosexual families and children is exactly the problem.

A couple reasons why your analogy fails - there is no reason for gay people to get married, if they just want sex.  They can get that anyway.  If anything it is because they see marriage as more than just eroticism they seek it. 

Need to work on articulating that in a way that doesn’t undermine procreation and child care. See if you can find a way to articulate it that actually would be to the benefit of the nation’s children.

I think the idea that marriage is an institution for the caring of children is more interesting, and true.  It does raise, of course, more problems analytically.  People tended to get married quickly not because they wanted children, but because they wanted sex.  Children are a natural consequence, obviously.

Well, the young heterosexual men and women were not permitted to have sex until they married. They reason for the social institution of marriage was the fact of procreation.

But you seem to insinuate is that sex for other reasons is… sinful. 

You inferred, I did not insinuate.

People choose to have sex for lots of reasons.  What has happened is that technology and women’s choices have now separated sex from children.  I see that this is a problem.  But I don’t know how you would put the genie back in the bottle, unless you invited a sexual totalitarianism into the country.  Good luck with that.

I would suggest that totalitariansim is more likely to flourish when the procreative childrearing family is disabled. A society of individual pleasure seekers are more vulnerable to a totalitarian state than a society of strong families.

Perhaps, in our age, people can get married for the purpose of children, as they can easily have sex before marriage without any consequences.  This doesn’t say much about how gay marriage hurts children.  It seems to me that gay people are adopting the children noone else wants - who can’t even get straight parents.  I recently met a lesbian couple who had raised three crack babies who were totally unwanted by the state. 

I thought you just said “technology and women’s choices have now separated sex from children.” So, where do you suppose “the children no one else wants” are coming from? The reality is that sex and child bearing are only partially de-coupled. And the partially de-coupling has created tremendous cultural ramifications. Did you know that the leading cause of death of pregnant women is homicide and the the most likely murderer is the the father of the child? I think this indicates the those men wanted more decoupling of sex from procreation than the women did.

I suppose that this is immoral and degenerate in some cosmic fashion, but I don’t see how.

Those words(immoral and degenerate) are coming from you. I did not introduce them into this thread.

Second, you implicitly reduce families that can’t procreate as second class citizens by assuming that only natural childbirth is holy. 

I think it is cruel to try to use heterosexual couples who cannot bear children as bargaining chips for gay marriage.

If you want to complain about the eroticization of our culture, I’d look to Madison avenue or Hollywood or the media conglomerates who know that sex sells.  You might want to critique capitalism and its drive to sell us more products.  Homosexuals are just a convenient scapegoat for the general corrupt system we’re in. 

People have not sought out homosexuals for scapegoating. A powerful LGBT lobby has aggressively demanded changes in the culture to benefit LGBT. The problem is they haven’t thought through how this would be at the expensive of children.

Our culture hates children anyway.  Compare the amount we spend on our children to the amount we spend on the military.  As a culture we are miserly to the children in our midst. 

So given that children are already devalued, why not make it worse???

Don’t blame gay people for that.

I am blaming the LGBT lobby for a “crime of opportunity” that exacerbates a pre-existing problem.
Yes, the arm is broken, but don’t grab the watch off. It is more cruel to grab the watch from the person with the broken arm because it hurts more, will damage the healing process and it is a cowardly crime of opportunity because the person is less able to defend himself.
I was responding to the book review which was not religiously based and I did not introduce this language into the discussion.

There is an informative article on this subject posted here on T19 today, July 1, 2007 titled “What is a Marriage For? Recent Survey Results are Revealing” Among its results, it shows that there has been a 24 point drop in the number of people who view children as important to a good marriage.

The Pew Research Center survey on marriage and parenting found that children had fallen to eighth out of nine on a list of factors that people associate with successful marriages — well behind “sharing household chores,” “good housing,” “adequate income,” a “happy sexual relationship” and “faithfulness.”

In a 1990 World Values Survey, children ranked third in importance among the same items, with 65 percent saying children were very important to a good marriage. Just 41 percent said so in the new Pew survey.

Chore-sharing was cited as very important by 62 percent of respondents, up from 47 percent in 1990.

The survey also found that, by a margin of nearly 3-to-1, Americans say the main purpose of marriage is the “mutual happiness and fulfillment” of adults rather than the “bearing and raising of children.”

The survey’s findings buttress concerns expressed by numerous scholars and family-policy experts, among them Barbara Dafoe Whitehead of Rutgers University’s National Marriage Project.

“The popular culture is increasingly oriented to fulfilling the X-rated fantasies and desires of adults,” she wrote in a recent report. “Child-rearing values — sacrifice, stability, dependability, maturity — seem stale and musty by comparison.”

When the LGBT lobby advance their argument for the redefinition of marriage, they exacerbate the difficult situation we are facing. Children are the losers.

July 1, 2:40 pm | [comment link]
11. Deja Vu wrote:

FYI Here’s a quote from the NY Times on the Blankenhorn book:

Mr. Blankenhorn readily admits that the “deinstitutionalization” of marriage that he fears - the redefinition of what he considers the nation’s “most pro-child institution” as a private adult relationship stripped of public meaning - has been under way for a long time. Deeply rooted in American individualism and the quest for self-fulfillment, that redefinition “has been growing for decades, propagated overwhelmingly by heterosexuals.” Same-sex marriage only further erodes marriage as a pro-child institution, he believes.

Mr. Blankenhorn wishes it weren’t so. Unlike many other opponents of same-sex marriage, he explicitly recognizes the rights and needs of gay men and lesbians to be respected and accepted and to form “loving, stable partnerships.”

The debate is not “a simple issue of good versus bad,” he writes. “The real conflict is between one good and another: the equal dignity of all persons and the worth of homosexual love, versus the flourishing of children. On each side, the threat to something important is real. It wastes everyone’s time to pretend that this question is an easy one, and that only bad people can fail to see the right answer.”

July 1, 10:08 pm | [comment link]
Registered members must log in to comment.




Next entry (above): Two Articles on the Aftermath of Canadian General Synod in the Diocese of New Westminster

Previous entry (below): Blog quiz answers

Return to blog homepage

Return to Mobile view (headlines)