- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2003

Marriage may be making a big comeback in the popular culture, but it’s still portrayed primarily as a love affair for adults instead of the best environment to raise children, two researchers said in a report released yesterday.

A genuine revival of marriage should acknowledge its personal and public benefits, said David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-directors of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, in their new report on marriage in America.

“When one thinks of marriage, one should be thinking of children as much as one thinks of soul mates and romance,” Mr. Popenoe said.

In their paper, “The State of Our Unions: The Social Health of Marriage in America: 2003,” Mr. Popenoe and Mrs. Whitehead see signs that a 40-year decline in two-parent married families may be coming to an end.

Hit movies like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and reality TV matchmaking shows are reviving enthusiasm for marriage, they said.

But the emphasis is still mostly about “romantic relationships and lavish weddings” while time-honored aspects of marriage, such as its importance to children or even its connection to parenthood, remain sidelined, they said.

This has to change if a marriage culture in which children flourish is to emerge, they said.

Historian Allan Carlson agrees. He said childbearing is the primary reason marriage has traditionally been treated as a “privileged” relationship.

Marriage is “not just another friendship or another love affair or another expression of sexual passion,” said Mr. Carlson, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council and head of the Howard Center in Rockford, Ill., who recently spoke on marriage at a Capitol Hill briefing.

Society makes a fuss about marriage and even holds big parties where the community comes and wishes the couple well “because the future of any community rests on that relationship” and its potential to produce the next generation, he said.

Author Stephanie Coontz, who studies family changes and is co-chairman of the Council on Contemporary Families, cautions that “it does not help people to tell them that marriage is the only way to care well for kids.”

Some marriages are simply bad, so marriage can’t be the only answer, she said. Also, “there are parents who are able to have a good committed relationship with their kids outside of marriage. We should help them do so, not beat up on them.”

Many countervailing social and cultural trends make it difficult for marriage to be a child-rearing and child-centered institution, wrote Mr. Popenoe and Mrs. Whitehead.

For instance, high numbers of couples have children without being married, and a persistently high divorce rate means that parents who are married may not stay that way. As a result, “getting married and becoming a parent seem to be entirely separate life pursuits, with different requirements for each,” they said.

Also, fathers who aren’t married to the mothers of their children seem to become “unglued” to their children when compared with married fathers, they said.

Society can take steps to rebuild a “marriage culture” through grass-roots education and activism, and research and pro-marriage projects, Mr. Popenoe and Mrs. Whitehead said.

Said Mr. Popenoe: “We have to continually point out how important marriage is to children. It just cannot be emphasized enough.”

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