Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

“Marriage Vow:” Born into Slavery? At Least You Had Two Parents [Updated]

Candidates pledge to say that married people are better

Declare your "dependence upon MARRIAGE and FAMiLY." That's what "The FAMiLY Leader," a group associated with the Iowa Family Policy Center, wants 2012 Presidential candidates to do. Their document is called "The Marriage Vow" and it has already been signed by Republican candidates Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum.

So far, the first bullet point of the document has attracted the most commentary:

"Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President."

That deserved to be skewered. Fortunately, others such as Michelle Goldberg at the Daily Beast, Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones, and Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post, have already stepped up to the task. (Petri also doesn't want us to miss the Vow's way of referring to children: "innocent fruit of conjugal intimacy.") At Slate, Libby Copeland also assailed the Vow's claim that married people have superior sex.

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To sign The Marriage Vow is to promise to practice matrimania, singlism, and singlism's cousin. You must pledge to support tax policy that favors married people. You must recognize "that robust childbearing and reproduction is beneficial to U.S. demographic, economic, strategic and actuarial health and security." (The emphasis is theirs, and yes they really did say "robust childrearing and reproduction.")

The Vow also demands a particular approach toward science. The findings that you promise to acknowledge are those that support your ideology (even when they don't). For example, candidates signing the Vow pledge their:

"Recognition of the overwhelming statistical evidence that married people enjoy better health, better sex, longer lives, greater financial stability, and that children raised by a mother and a father together experience better learning, less addiction, less legal trouble, and less extramarital pregnancy."

The sources for their "evidence" are the usual conservative ideological groups such as the Institute for American Values and the Heritage Foundation.

As longtime Living Single readers already know, I've spent years evaluating and critiquing those claims, not by repeating assertions from ideological institutes, but from reading the original scientific reports and assessing their methodological underpinnings. One of the claims is generally true: If you get married, you will probably have more money. Your legal, economic, and marketplace privileges (often subsidized by single people) almost guarantee that. The other claims are mostly exaggerated, misrepresented, or just plain false.

Because I've explained the problems with these assertions so many times before, I won't reiterate them here. Instead, I'll just point you to some of those previous sources:

  • Singled Out, especially the chapters on the 10 myths
  • Single with Attitude, especially the section, "If Marriage Were a Drug, the FDA Would Not Approve It"
  • This critique of the claims about how the children of single parents are doomed
  • This critique and this one of the many claims that getting married makes you a healthier, happier, and all-round better person
  • This debunking of the claim about the superiority of married sex
  • This latest deflation of the claim that if you get married, you will live longer

Science is about discovery. It is not a pledge of allegiance. I will pledge this, though: If methodologically sound scientific findings ever really do provide "overwhelming statistical evidence" that getting married makes you lastingly happier, healthier, sexier, or anything else good, I'll admit it.

(By the way, that small i in the word FAMiLY is how the group wants it to appear - something about subordination. Let your imagination run amuck.)

[Thanks to Elizabeth for the heads-up about The Vow.]

UPDATE: Apparently, these Vow people can be embarrassed. The uproar over that paragraph about slavery has been so vociferous that the section has now been removed. Now if they'd only disavow the entire vow...]

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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