An institution is nothing but an organized version of a paradigm, a set of culture concepts that people more or less assume to be true and so insist on. As Thomas Kuhn pointed out, when the paradigm stops working, people stop believing in it. The institutional paradigm of “marriage” is breaking down.
1. Economics: a woman needn’t be dependent on a man’s income and assets while many men -- maybe the majority -- no longer earn enough money to support a wife, children, and a home.
2. Ability to control conception of children.
3. Willingness to abandon or eject children.
4. Genetic research indicating that monogamous mammals are practically nonexistent: they all get a little on the side if they can. Birds are more likely pair-bonded, but not always.
5. Longevity means that human “life-long” can now be a century instead of a few decades. Relationships tend to be unstable, accumulating children with blurry claims.
6. Institutionalized nursing, combat, home-maintenance, and urban living make it possible for individuals to survive on their own.
8. Belief that people should not be owned by other people.
9. Reaching the limits of what people can earn.
10. Punishing poverty with imprisonment and fines.
11. Big anonymous cities (hide).
12. Almost unlimited mobility (escape).
Religious institutions have lost their grip on ceremonies of dedication to marriage and children, let alone respect for celibacy. What was once a serious matter worthy of counseling has slid into being a sort of party about coming of age, esp. for women. In an effort to keep children born out of wedlock from being shamed, we have succeeded in making everyone shameless, to the point of frothy white wedding dresses designed for the pregnant bride.
Government has had somewhat the same fate. Over and over guys who wanted to “throw a leg over” have insisted that marriage is just a piece of paper. Laws that require a father to support his child, and the DNA proof of which child that is, ought to have a sobering effect, as do divorce laws that automatically award a percentage of the couple’s assets according to the length of time they’ve been married. Very few people sit down to read the state’s laws about ownership and legal obligations in marriage, instead picking up a lot of miscellaneous ideas from television shows where the screenwriters have invented generic locations. If marrying an enrolled Indian or an immigrant, legal or not, a look into the laws would be very very smart.
Another medical category is disease, fertility, and so on. Since even microbes have DNA and even viruses have families, it is possible to discover who was contagious, the bug-donor. Why should the public care? Because we’re all at risk, because it’s expensive to fight epidemics, because the emergency room at a hospital and the welfare support system both pay out a LOT to people who are in over their heads. That’s TAX money.
Government’s main job is to keep order and to provide benefits that can’t easily be provided by individuals, mostly infrastructure networks. Often this extends into medical contexts, even unto death and burial, by dictating who has access to patients in hospitals or make decisions about their treatment. Taxation, insurance, liability, inheritance and other matters may include weighting in favor of old-fashioned legally married people and their children.
More than any of that technical stuff, the emotional consequences of marriage take people by surprise. Violence, for instance. Loving someone more than they love back. Discovering pasts that come by ambush to claim energy, money, caring. One’s earliest experience of nuclear family dynamics can erupt into the present, distorting reality and sanity. Demands from the partner may turn out to be extraordinary: coping with kidnapping or extortion, involvement in gambling, mutilating damage from burns or war, PTSD, surviving community natural disasters or just one’s home’s destruction, addictions of various kinds, chronic diseases. Loss of a child. Stigma. Community hostility. These days one cannot discount national revolution and riots.
If the love is a true and growing bond, it will ask for many compromises and heartaches, but on the other hand provide someone who is always there, holding out a hand, guarding your back, keeping the bed warm. That means you have a lot to lose.
When an institution gets hold of a cultural paradigm, it builds it in, tries to make it a law so it won’t go away. Think of the wedding industry! If people are on their fourth marriage, unashamed and still prepared to go into debt for all the fancy stuff, it’s great for sales. All those slick magazines! All those teenaged girls escaping into fantasy! All those middle-aged people marrying who can afford so much more! All those pretty little churches available to rent by people who are sentimental, but not sentimental enough to have established a relationship with their own church. By the way, wedding cakes and garters are not religious -- they're only merchandise.
But it is the religious institutions who hang on to marriage the hardest. They muster all the energy they have to summon supernatural forces, though that often raises peculiar problems: if humans are physically reconstituted in heaven -- at what age? Do you get missing parts back? If persons were married three or fourth times, how does that work out? Or, changing institutions, don’t any of those insurgents realize how much trouble a hundred virgins would be? Or maybe they’re not teenagers -- would that be better or worse? Pruney old maids? Does the fantasy include boy virgins?
Like contemporary political parties, today's religious institutions are sundered and splintered and contradict each other into paralysis. The governmental institutions at all levels and in their various departments are just as bad. No wonder they have no credibility when it comes time for one to curb the other. It is all too clear that they are simply preserving their own authority and existence rather than trying to find ways to help the people who fund them and suffer from them.
But most humans hope for a special and significant other that matches well enough for the partnership to go on a long time, long enough to grow together and really know each other, share memories, not have to explain everything. Synergy is the word for two things that are fine separately, but make a jump into much higher value and function when combined.
So what new cultural paradigm is forming? Gays who marry -- some of whom adopt -- may require a good deal of economic jiggering, maybe require new legal documents stipulating how to handle property and parenthood. Will some better way of handling abandoned children come out of this? We can hope. What will be the final outcome of all the people who so value genomic children of their own that they pay out huge fees and suffer physical pain and risk? Even now a divorce settlement must include provision for sperm, ova, and conceptia that have been frozen for later activation into children. Some people care a lot more about them -- since they’re only fantasy -- than about their own rebellious, desperate children. The law now forbids using those biological resources for anything but becoming children of the donors -- will that change as the authority of religion institutions is weakened more and more?What should be the minimum obligations of married people to each other? What will automatically cancel the relationship? Should there be two stages: one a commitment to intimacy and the other to the creation and raising of children? (Margaret Mead suggested that many years ago.) Should there be tests before people are certified for marriage -- not just for STD’s but for financial competency, home maintenance, child-management skills? How would you enforce such a thing in a culture where people hook up with strangers in bars without so much as catching their names? Should there be some system of something like kibbutzim for the raising of children in groups? (How would they be different from old-fashioned miserable orphanages?) What would the KIDS want? I think probably a mom and dad, or a mom and mom, or a dad and dad, or at least a mom OR a dad. Village optional.