In 1996, then President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, effectively defining the institution of marriage as an act between a man and a woman. Since that time, the constitutionality of this law has been challenged, and the debate rages on regarding whether or not same-sex couples should be granted the same rights as heterosexual ones. The most popular argument made against granting same-sex couples the right to marry, of course, is that their union would undermine the "sanctity" of marriage in our culture.
Hold on, so marriage is still a sacred institution in our culture? I'm sorry, I think many Americans must have missed this memo; between divorce rates of approximately 53 percent, not to mention startling rates of infidelity between spouses that may or may not end in divorce, most cultural evidence is to the contrary. In fact, the United States ranks first in divorce rates worldwide, a statistic we can take about as much pride in as the fact that we also rank first in obesity (but that, alas, is for a future post).
Of course, the most recent publicity stunt with the announcement of the demise of the famous-for-being-famous Kim Kardashian's marriage to what's his name after 72 days has sparked a renewed debate regarding just how sacred the institution of marriage really is—in America, at least. Certainly, we always want to be careful about how we apply celebrity behavior to the general behavior of us mere mortals; as we do not have the seemingly unlimited resources, access to the spotlight, and apparent stupidity that go hand in hand with their bad behavior. But in this particular case, the demise of celebrity marriages does serve as a startling example of a legitimate cultural issue: namely, the expendability of marriage today.
Lest we pick on Kardashian too much for this most recent celebrity marriage implosion, you may be surprised to hear that the 72 days this marriage lasted didn't even rank in the top ten shortest celebrity marriages in history (see Callaway, n.d.). The illustrious distinction for the shortest celebrity marriage ever goes to actors Rudolph Valentino and Jean Acker, who wed and divorced within six hours in 1919. Okay, okay, so that was way before our time, and maybe the kids were just crazier in the aftermath of the Great War. Ranking in at the number three shortest celebrity marriages is none other than Britney Spears' 55-hour mistake to Jason Alexander (not of Seinfeld fame, this Alexander is just known as the guy who married then promptly agreed to get annulled from Spears in Vegas).
So let's get our story straight, America. Is the institution of marriage still sacred when we have the world's highest divorce rates and are willing to swap partners, begin and end commitments on a seeming whim? If we are going to deny an entire segment of our population one of the most basic rights of any civilization, can we at least have the courtesy to own up to the fact that we just don't want them to get married, rather than cloak our prejudice under the guise of some imagined sanctity of marriage?
And for the record, I am for overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and granting same-sex couples the same right to marriage as the rest of us. Our current President has similarly long contended that the act is unconstitutional and he would work for its repeal, although those promises have yet to come to fruition. Perhaps for couples who have to fight for the basic right of being able to love who they want to love, they would be less inclined to go into the institution of marriage on a whim. And if not, even if it turns out that granting same-sex couples the right to wed won't curtail our divorce rates, don't they have the right to be just as miserable and fat as the rest of us?
Callaway, N. (n.d.). Top 20 Shortest Celebrity Marriages. Retrieved on November 1, 2011 from http://weddings.about.com/cs/justforfun/a/ShortCelebWeds.htm .
Copyright Azadeh Aalai 2011