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Is Traditional Marriage Toast?

Very possibly.

Apr 29, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 31 • By IVAN KENNEALLY
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The problem for defenders of traditional marriage is that marriage as we find it today isn’t that traditional. It has already been decisively transformed by the advancement of modernity’s twin ideals, individuality and consent. Divorce has become easy. Contraception, not gay marriage, sundered the connection between marriage and childbearing. Almost no one, even the staunchest defender of traditional marriage, thinks of it primarily as the union of two families.

And herein lies the problem in disentangling the knotty dispute of how to define marriage. Both parties to the debate tend to accept the cardinal elements of modern thought, which undermine traditional marriage. Both sides, when they unfurl their positions to their furthest reaches, end up with the libertarian retirement of marriage as an institution. They are fighting over a treasure neither truly understands nor wants. Whoever wins in the short term, traditional marriage may well be doomed.

The best hope for traditional marriage is that the current contest ignites searching reflection on its meaning and value as well as its tenuous residence in the house of modernity. In many respects, the United States has fared far better than Europe in at least forestalling what increasingly presents itself as inevitable. This provides some promise that within the American mind there resides the will thoughtfully to reconsider, and therefore to withstand, the otherwise thoughtless rejection of whatever wisdom our cultural inheritance contains.

Ivan Kenneally is editor in chief of

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