Tag Archives: Marriage

Suzy Ismail at Harvard


Loveposter copy


What is Marriage?

New Article on the Nature of Marriage and the Answers to the Nation’s most pressing Marriage Questions Published in our very own Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy

Public Discourse, the Witherspoon Institute, and the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy released a major new article by Prof. Robert George, Sherif Girgis, and Public Discourse editor Ryan T. Anderson, in which the authors argue that society has strong reasons to recognize opposite-sex unions but not same-sex unions as civil marriages.

To give you an idea of the ground they cover, the table of contents can be found below.



PART ONE ……………………………………………………………………..248

A. Equality, Justice, and the Heart of the Debate …………………………………………..248

B. Real Marriage Is-And Is Only-The Union of Husband and Wife…………………..252

1. Comprehensive Union ………………………253

2. Special Link to Children ……………………255

3. Marital Norms…………………………………..259

C. How Would Gay Civil Marriage Affect You or Your Marriage? ………………..260

1. Weakening Marriage …………………………260

2. Obscuring the Value of Opposite-Sex Parenting As an Ideal ………………………..262

3. Threatening Moral and Religious Freedom ……………………………………………263

D. If Not Same-Sex Couples, Why Infertile Ones? ………………………………..265

1. Still Real Marriages……………………………266

2. Still in the Public Interest…………………..268

E. Challenges for Revisionists ……………………..269

1. The State Has an Interest in Regulating Some Relationships? ……….269

2. Only if They Are Romantic?………………271

3. Only if They Are Monogamous? ……….272

F. Isn’t Marriage Just Whatever We Say It Is? ……………………………………………274

PART TWO. …………………………………………………………………….275

A. Why Not Spread Traditional Norms to the Gay Community? ………………………….275

B. What About Partners’ Concrete Needs?……………………………………..280

C. Doesn’t the Conjugal Conception of Marriage Sacrifice Some People’s Fulfillment for Others’? …………….281

D. Isn’t It Only Natural? ………………………………284

E. Doesn’t Traditional Marriage Law Impose Controversial Moral and Religious Views on Everyone?………………………….285


Tagged ,

Marriage, Family Structure, and Society

Fifty students attended Dr. Pat Fagan’s talk on Monday evening, where we learned about the importance of marriage and family structure in understanding sociological and relational trends. Many thanks to all who made it out! Check out the Crimson’s coverage of the event.

For those interested in remembering any data/graphs/names that Dr. Fagan mentioned during his presentation, please contact us. If you would like to explore Dr. Fagan’s sociological work further, you can read many of his papers at his page on the Family Research Council website.

Tagged ,

Something More

Rachel Wagley in the Harvard Crimson discussing the sexualization of the college student, lack of commitment, and abstinence.

Something More

Published On Monday, November 02, 2009  10:18 PM

Our school plays porn to students. To my knowledge, it’s pseudo-porn and only in “English 154: Literature and Sexuality” during shopping period, but it’s alluring enough to induce 481 Harvard undergraduates into enrolling in the class, despite liberals, conservatives, and faculty alike decrying sexual objectification. Our school delights in humanism—reason! Intellect! Achievement! But when it comes to sex, the pursuit of physical pleasure—as long as you’ve got a condom—transcends reason. Self-control is prudish, unenlightened restraint—down with the patriarchy! Away with gender roles! My body is my play toy.

We have descended into a paradox. Sex gives us meaning—but is a meaningless end in itself. Our very identities are sexualized. As illustrated by “Harvard FML,” our newest and most embarrassing confessional outlet, hookups are messy, and college romance is messier. One cyber-girl moans, “All the guys I like always stop talking to me after we hook up. I feel like a classic ‘wham bam, thank you ma’am.’” If we are perplexed with organic chemistry and philosophy, then we are bewildered by sex, lust, love, and the specter of marriage.

We wildly seek answers. By trial, by error, by reading, by debating, by daydreaming, by flirting, by midnight talks lounging on roommate’s beds, by dining -hall conversations leaving us wondering where all the good men or women have gone: Is there truth? Will it set us free?

It is in this whirlwind that True Love Revolution connects the fragments of our culture. The nature of the 21st-century academic relegates us to later marriages. We are destined to fall in and out of love—or something—again and again before we seal the deal. This open time window encourages sexual activity—with or without commitment. “Gossip Girl” features high-school students losing both their virginity and dignity, Cosmopolitan flouts sex tips, movies mock men who wait for marriage, and intellectuals call casual sex empowering. It’s difficult to describe the plot of a contemporary TV show without relating who slept with whom. If cultures speak, then our culture screams: “It’s normal, OK?”

But if casual sex is normal, why do culture and academia need to remind us? Better yet, why do some radical feminists save their virginity? Why do at least 42 percent of Harvard students not have sex? Some declare that we just can’t get any sex, but if a larger percentage of the student body wanted the hookup culture, odds would be pretty good that more students could find it.

Without declaring war, True Love Revolution draws a conclusion. Culture reduces us to the sexual, but being human promises so much more. The sexualization of people and relationships hinders our development as human beings. When we embrace the sexual culture that stretches its logic to render us servile, we find ourselves unfulfilled. Abstinence resists cultural messages about human worth. Unlike casual sex, abstinence is empowering because, instead of making sex and uncontrolled lust an end, it makes people the end.

English 154 grapples with this same idea. “Sexuality” has gradually displaced “soul,” “mind,” and “character” as the most essential and salient ingredient in modern subjectivity, as the “truth of the self,” reads the course description. Temporary physical pleasure now outwits the soul, reason, and virtue. Gone are the days when we place value on condemning its consequences, though many conspicuously refuse to participate.

The vast majority of college students seek marriage one day, but our perspectives on relationships do not always reflect this. It is as if commitment is a character trait developed instantly at the altar—once the ring is on the finger. But those of us addicted to endorphins, prone to procrastination, or disposed to overspending recognize that traits cannot apparate; they must be habituated. By trial and error, society found that cohabitation and increased number of sexual partners lead to higher divorce rates.

In this commitment-less environment, social connections wither away, as evidenced in Professor Robert Putnam’s sobering book, “Bowling Alone.” On our fast-paced campus, a dating-culture return may be distant, but a return to commitment habituated through abstinence to a future partner will both galvanize the dating scene and make people more deeply known—a longing so prevalent it is heartbreaking.

We are lackluster students—we believe what we learn. We willingly objectify ourselves, and our best foot forward is our sexuality, not our soul. When we embrace the sexualized college student role, we surrender our identities: The vibrant, beautiful, curious, winsome, self-controlled men and women that we are. Will we be slaves to sexuality, or seek out something more?

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

“The Wifely Duty”

Not exactly relevant to the college student, but rather fascinating –

Undersexed: the state of American marriage due to “liberating” feminism?

Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic wrote an article several years ago about how modern society renders married couples undersexed. Hopefully Harvard students aren’t experiencing this, but it’s a provocative thesis. Excerpt:

…Yuppies, with that winsome arrogance that is all their own, proudly describe the nature and frequency of their premarital couplings with a specificity matched only by advanced seminars on animal husbandry. The reason abortion rights hold such a sanctified position in American political life is that they are a critical component of the yuppie program for maximum personal sexual pleasure. But let these inebriates of nooky enter marriage, a state in which ongoing sexuality often has as much to do with old-fashioned notions of obligation and commitment as it does with the immediate satisfaction of intense physical desire, and they grow as cool and limp as yesterday’s Cobb salad…

All of this makes me reflect that those repressed and much pitied 1950s wives—their sexless college years! their boorish husbands, who couldn’t locate the clitoris with a flashlight and a copy of Gray’s Anatomy!—were apparently getting a lot more action than many of today’s most liberated and sexually experienced married women. In the old days, of course, there was the wifely duty. A housewife understood that in addition to ironing her husband’s shirts and cooking the Sunday roast, she was—with some regularity—going to have relations with the man of the house. Perhaps, as some feminists would have us believe, these were grimly efficient interludes during which the poor humped-upon wife stared at the ceiling and silently composed the grocery list. Or perhaps not. Maybe, as Davis and her “new” findings suggest, once you get the canoe out in the water, everybody starts happily paddling. The notion that female sexuality was unleashed forty years ago, after lying dormant lo these uncountable millennia, is silly; more recent is the sexual shutdown that apparently takes place in many marriages soon after they have been legalized…

Although I have an amused tolerance for books like The Total Woman, I am not entirely incapable of good, old-fashioned feminist rage. The notion that even educated middle-class American women had to put out in order to get a damn refrigerator—even that they might “yearn” for one—just steams me. However, I would not advise against using sex for more subtle marital adjustments, of a type described in The Sex-Starved Marriage. Davis reminds women that one of the more effective ways to get a husband to be more considerate and helpful is to seduce him. She counsels a group of female clients who complain of angry, critical husbands to “pay more attention to their physical relationships with their husbands,” to “be sexier, more affectionate, attentive, responsive, and passionate.” Darned if the old bag of tricks doesn’t work like a charm—the ladies arrive at the next therapy session giggling and thrilled with their new powers. To many contemporary women, however, the notion that sex might have any function other than personal fulfillment (and the occasional bit of carefully scheduled baby making) is a violation of the very tenets of the sexual revolution that so deeply shaped their attitudes on such matters. Under these conditions, pity the poor married man hoping to get a bit of comfort from the wife at day’s end. He must somehow seduce a woman who is economically independent of him, bone tired, philosophically disinclined to have sex unless she is jolly well in the mood, numbingly familiar with his every sexual maneuver, and still doing a slow burn over his failure to wipe down the countertops and fold the dish towel after cooking the kids’ dinner. He can hardly be blamed for opting instead to check his e-mail, catch a few minutes of SportsCenter, and call it a night…

Keep reading.

Tagged , ,

Response to an anti-TLR Crimson editorial

Some people find it easier to let hostility carry their writing rather than honest criticism, as Silpa Kovvali did in her Crimson editorial against True Love Revolution last Wednesday, October 21st.  If I had to distill her piece, it would run: “I interviewed the co-president of a group I disagree with, I misconstrued her statements, and thereby showed the whole group is irrational.”  Kovvali makes no real attempt to understand and counter our claims and substitutes caricaturing our views for argument.

I can only presume that Kovvali thought her audience shared her distaste for TLR and so wouldn’t question her tactics. She levels the charge of “ignorant intolerance” at TLR, which is strong indeed.  Since the only cardinal sin on a college campus is being intolerant, if you can make that label stick to a group it becomes shunned.  Kovvali is not the only one to make this accusation, so it’s worth responding to.  TLR makes a stand for objective truth in sexual ethics and marriage and isn’t shy about claiming to be right, but is it fair to call it intolerant?

First of all, moral claims are difficult to defend when directly attacked; even a shoplifter could spin out a dozen rationalizations for why they “really don’t hurt anyone” if they wanted.  And when you do defend moral claims, you run the risk of being criticized for imposing your views on others.  Since many people view sexuality as a purely private choice, they don’t see the point of taking moral positions on it.  An analagous private choice fraught with moral issues is recreational drug use.  As a side note, the moral arguments are different from pragmatic arguments about effects on society and individuals, although these can certainly illustrate negative consequences.  But just because no immediate damage is evident does not mean a choice is morally justified.

So, imagine that you had a strong moral stance against recreational drug use. If you really felt that it was a serious enough problem, you might write an article in a campus journal.  If your friends complained to you about the intolerance of your views and said you were arrogant for thinking you knew what was best for others, how would you respond?  Would you back down and say: “Well, it really is just a personal decision and my moral philosophy doesn’t apply to others,” or would you stand by your beliefs out of personal integrity and concern for them?  However the conversation went, it’s clear there’s a huge difference between arguing against drug use and condemning individuals.  If you couldn’t convince your friends, you would just have to acknowledge your differences and live with the tension.  This is TLR’s position on campus.

Secondly, the reality is that everyone has views about objective truth, and no one is “tolerant” of conflicting views.  So when two people of good-will disagree sharply about a moral point, it’s all the more important to argue honestly. For instance, Kovvali unfavorably compares TLR with the Queer Students and Allies (QSA) and says that queers don’t demand that everyone else be like them.  However, their philosophy has real implications, to which a fair comparison would point.  The QSA shares the supposedly “neutral” liberal position on sexuality that sex is morally value-free and can be engaged in as one wants.  This gives a strong bias toward sexual experimentation and relations because it uncritically gives free rein to desire.  An extreme example is the recent article on gay Craigslist hookups in the Yale Daily News.  This moral position, which is prescribed for the whole campus, is a direct threat to students who are committed to abstinence because it undermines the reasons for waiting until marriage to have sex.

On another philosophical issue, the QSA clearly advocates gay marriage, as evidenced by their recent phone bank effort to change the vote in Maine.  Their position says that the definition of marriage should be between two unisex partners, and they’re quite willing to “impose” that definition on everyone else.  So please, let’s not pretend that TLR is the only group on campus with strong views.  Our philosophical and moral positions provide the framework for our lifestyle, and we’re not afraid to make the case for views that have universal import.  We invite the campus to think about these issues, see why we hold them, and argue in kind.  The last thing we’re interested in is compelling anyone to agree with us or change their sex life.  What could be more counter-productive?

Tagged , , ,

Lost in a world without courtship

Traditional family values are passe to my young hipster generation, but the culture of casual sexuality breaks down society. Far be it from me to call for a return to the courtship society (though my daddy would love that), but let me offer a glimpse of the current romance climate. Young marriage is socially frowned upon, so young adults naturally take sexual and emotional yearning into their own hands at great cost to future marital strength. Their inclination toward serial cohabitation breeds unhappiness and trains for divorce.

For those wary of moral statements, read on, for Michael Gerson speaks as the sociologist when he describes this rather inconspicuous but mainstream lifestyle fad (yes, just a fad, says the optimist). Gerson’s Washington Post article couldn’t be any more relevant to those in the Harvard community. Here’s a good summary (like usual, my summaries consist of most of the article):

“There is a segment of society for whom traditional family values are increasingly irrelevant, and for whom spring-break sexual liberationism is increasingly costly: men and women in their 20s.

This is the period of life in which society’s most important social commitments take shape — commitments that produce stability, happiness and children. But the facts of life for 20-somethings are challenging. Puberty — mainly because of improved health — comes steadily sooner. Sexual activity kicks off earlier. But the average age at which people marry has grown later; it is now about 26 for women, 28 for men.

This opens a hormone-filled gap — a decade and more of likely sexual activity before marriage. And for those in that gap, there is little helpful guidance from the broader culture. Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, argues that the “courtship narrative” in the past was clear: dating, engagement, marriage, children. This narrative has been disrupted without being replaced, leaving many 20-somethings in a “relational wasteland.”

The casual sex promoted in advertising and entertainment often leads, in the real world of fragile hearts and STDs, to emotional and physical wreckage…

In the absence of a courtship narrative, young people have evolved a casual, ad hoc version of their own: cohabitation. From 1960 to 2007, the number of Americans cohabiting increased fourteenfold. For some, it is a test-drive for marriage. For others, it is an easier, low-commitment alternative to marriage. About 40 percent of children will now spend some of their childhood in a cohabiting union.

How is this working out? Not very well. Relationships defined by lower levels of commitment are, not unexpectedly, more likely to break up. Three-quarters of children born to cohabiting parents will see their parents split up by the time they turn 16, compared with about one-third of children born to married parents. So apart from the counsel of cold showers or “let the good times roll,” is there any good advice for those traversing the relational wilderness? Religion and morality contribute ideals of character. But social science also indicates some rough, practical wisdom.

First, while it may not be realistic to maintain the connection between marriage and sex, it remains essential to maintain the connection between marriage and childbearing. Marriage is the most effective institution to bind two parents for a long period in the common enterprise of raising a child — particularly encouraging fathers to invest time and attention in the lives of their children. And the fatherless are some of the most disadvantaged, betrayed people in our society, prone to delinquency, poverty and academic failure. Cohabitation is no place for children.

Second, the age of first marriage is important to marital survival and happiness. Teen marriage is generally a bad idea, with much higher rates of divorce. Romeo and Juliet were, in fact, young fools. Later marriage has been one of the reasons for declining national divorce rates. But this does not mean the later the better. Divorce rates trend downward until leveling off in the early 20s. But people who marry after 27 tend to have less happy marriages — perhaps because partners are set in their ways or have unrealistically high standards. The marital sweet spot seems to be in the early to mid-20s.

Third, having a series of low-commitment relationships does not bode well for later marital commitment. Some of this expresses preexisting traits — people who already have a “nontraditional” view of commitment are less likely to be committed in marriage. But there is also evidence, according to Wilcox, that multiple failed relationships can “poison one’s view of the opposite sex.” Serial cohabitation trains people for divorce. In contrast, cohabitation by engaged couples seems to have no adverse effect on eventual marriage.

There is little use in preaching against a hurricane of social change. But delaying marriage creates moral, emotional and practical complications. The challenge, as always, is to humanize change. The answer, even in the relational wasteland, is responsibility, commitment and sacrifice for the sake of children.”

Tagged , , , , ,

Malaysia gives free honeymoons to lower divorce rate

Malaysia stoops to new lows (stretches to new highs?) to keep couples married:

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s eastern state of Terengganu is offering free honeymoons worth up to $440 each to rekindle the romance between married couples on the brink of divorce.

The honeymoon package comes with some counseling and is an attempt to slow soaring divorce rates in the state, according to The Star newspaper reported on Monday.

“We can understand newlyweds having problems understanding one another, where a slight skirmish could lead to a separation but it is unacceptable for those married more than two decades to file for divorce,” the paper quoted Terengganu Welfare Community Development and Women Affairs committee chairman, Ashaari Idris, as saying.

The conservative Muslim state did not disclose divorce rates.

Idris said the state had carried out a successful pilot project where 25 couples facing marital woes were selected for three-day honeymoon package that cost around 1,500 ringgit ($440) per couple.

Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country. Under Islam, divorce is allowed, but frowned upon, with the Prophet Mohammed saying divorce was, in the eyes of God, the most distasteful lawful act.

I hope it works. And then I hope the US picks up on the travesty of no-fault divorce. But ultimately, the government can’t make people fall in love, or stay in love. Social organizations must defend marriage on the grassroots level, encouraging individuals to practice a deeper love beyond the desires of the self.

Tagged , , ,