UW News

August 18, 1997

Is same-sex marriage the death-knell for matrimony?

CHICAGO– Reports of the death of American marriage, like the famous pronouncement of Mark Twain’s early demise, may be premature.

But exactly where the state of matrimony is headed in the wake of the Hawaiian same-sex marriage case is a question a University of Washington sociologist and commentator on mores will explore when she participates in a symposium at noon today (Aug. 18) in the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers.

Pepper Schwartz, the author of the books “American Couples– and “Peer Marriage,– contends that gay marriage should not be viewed as good or bad. Rather, Americans need to talk about what strengthens the family and understand that marriage is the building block of family stability at a time when the divorce rate has soared above 50 percent.

Schwartz, who testified as an expert witness in the Hawaiian case, will be joined at the symposium, “Law, Psychology and Sociology of Same-Sex Marriage,– by Larry Kurdek of Wright State University, William Eskridge of Georgetown University and Fernando Gutierrez, a psychologist from San Jose, Cal.

The Hawaiian state circuit court has ruled that the state cannot deny a couple a marriage license solely because both applicants are of the same sex. In her remarks today, Schwartz will focus on one of the questions posed by the state during the trial: is the institution of marriage so fragile that same-sex marriage will be its death knell in America? That question was a major issue in the trial, and she says the political far right has adopted that charge as fact while the center and left have ignored it. She believes society must address the question.

“We need to look at what kind of national stand we want to take on marriage and at the institution of marriage, not straight or gay marriage, from society’s point of view,– she says. “We should look at what kind of needs in society are real and ask if marriages are meeting them.–

She sees the necessity of society trying to agree on what makes a marriage and what the benefits the institution provides, such as:

producing children who are loved, taken care of and socialized. In short, marriage should create another generation of well-adjusted adults.

creating an atmosphere where the old and infirm are loved and taken care of.

fostering couples who rely less on the state and more on the people who love them.
Schwartz also questions the trend of having the mother-child model as the building block of American society. “There are a huge number of models among animals where the male is only a visitor in the family and doesn’t play a role in raising the offspring. I don’t think we want that,– she says. “There are alternatives and there is a lot of research that shows the value of having many adults involved in rearing children. The somewhat hackneyed idea of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ concept has validity. The extended family — grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins, along with friends — can be an incredibly important factor in raising a child in some societies, although it is disappearing from ours.–

Schwartz believes society’s best bet is to find ways to shore up committed and supportive marriages.

“This means taking a look at gay marriage and what it says about commitment and stability. Society must answer the question, do you undermine marriage by leaving gays out of the loop or do you sanction gay marriage to shore up the marriage. Right now gays are out of the loop. Is that a good thing? I don’t think so,– she says.

For more information, contact Schwartz at her Seattle office, (206) 543-4036 (she checks her office messages several times daily and returns calls promptly) or by e-mail at couples@u.washington.edu.