Monday, November 26, 2007

A Bit of an Overreaction

In a recent broadcast on the NBC Nightly News about Queen Elizabeth's 60th wedding anniversary, newscaster Brian Williams made a comment about what an achievement this was, especially in 2007 when “marriage seems ‘under attack’ as an institution.”

Some advocates for same-sex marriage took offense at Williams' comments, claiming that he was stating disapproval for the push to legalize same-sex marriage.

I can't say that this is what I got out of that statement. Rather, I took his remarks as a commentary about divorce, considering he was congratulating the Queen solely for the endurance of her marriage, rather than the quality of it.

After receiving a torrent of critical emails, Williams issued the following statement:

“My meaning? Our national divorce rate, which is currently somewhere between 40 and 50 percent. Others took it upon themselves to decide that I was somehow attacking gay marriage. The simple fact is that nothing could have been further from my mind, as many others easily understood. In fact, one comment shared with me today came from a respected member of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, who said, ‘It seemed to me he was talking about the sky-high heterosexual divorce rates. Marriage IS under attack — by straight people. It had nothing to do with the gay marriage movement.’”

This isn't to say that I'm letting Williams completely off the hook, however. In a comment I made at Alternet about this incident, I said, in part, "Williams' comments about marriage being under attack in the context of the Queen's sixty year marriage indicates that his sole yardstick about the success of a marriage is simply how long it lasts, with the quality of the relationship apparently irrelevant. In other words, it's all about quantity, not quality."

Indeed, the point to the marriage of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip as a model of a successful long-time marriage is to use a poor example, as their marriage bears little resemblance to that of the average person. For one thing, the Queen, if she wanted to remain queen and not be obliged to abdicate as did her uncle, HAD to stay married, no matter how miserable and personally unfulfilling her relationship was with Philip. She was also limited in her choice of marriage partners, and the main point of a royal marriage is to continue the dynasty, to produce future heirs to the throne -- whether or not she actually loved Philip was entirely besides the point.

In other words, the longevity of their marriage has little or nothing to say to the marriages of average people. As far as the divorce rate, which Williams associated with an "attack on marriage", I think this commenter from Alternet said it well:

"A high divorce rate doesn't mean an institution under attack any more than a high rate of traffic citations meaning driving is under attack. Times are tough economically and one of the biggest stress factors on a marriage is finances and money problems."

You would think that all these right-wing knuckle heads would suddenly realize that this prized institution of marriage that they harp on ad nauseum would become more stable if people had less worries about job security, adequate incomes, health care access and losing their homes through foreclosure."

Another commenter pointed out:

"Marriage like everything else has changed.It's not under fire. It's no longer a social requirement.Nor should it be.Strictly defined, marriage serves to protect family fortunes & property and to create legal heirs to same. It's a job. Traditionally it's more work for women than men. Women now go to a job and get paid. It's not about gays. "The Times Are A'Changin". There's a lot of work yet to be done."


For a short overview of how marriage has changed in the last two thousand years, click here.

No comments: