One of the topics that interested me much in “Conversations: Readings for Writing” is that of marriage and family institutions and the revolution they have undergone from the past to the recent years. According to the authors, marriage can be described as a kinship link that is created out of a social or lawful union between two people.
Marriage practices are different and varied from one culture to another, yet most of them are characterized by a wedding ceremony as a means of formalization. The act of marriage changes both the social and personal status of the two individuals involved and comes with legal and social responsibilities as well. However, the present perceptions of marriage have evolved greatly in comparison to past attitudes.
Marriages in the past were a rite of passage and any two individuals getting into a marriage would be known to be getting into a lifetime commitment. At a certain age, every person was expected to get married or to marry someone and the idea of remaining a bachelor or spinster for the rest of one’s life was unheard of.
This was a social and moral responsibility and starting and raising a family at some point in life was deemed as giving back to the society. Once married, one could not simply get out of a marriage; persevering any mishaps or problems encountered along the way was not a choice but an obligation. In relation to this, divorce was neither supported and one had to fight to keep his/her marriage together (Bosanquet 137).
Conversely, in the current society marriage is a matter of choice and the decision to stay single is not altogether unpardonable. Nowadays, men and women are perceived to be more independent and can easily take care of themselves and their children without the need of a spouse.
For some people, single life can get lonely but day by day, more people seem to be happier with being single as their jobs and perhaps children, give them enough gratification. In addition, the current society does not dogmatically follow the vows “till death does us part”. In fact, the society supports getting out of a marriage if it’s not working as expected and thus makes it easy for people to divorce without being frowned upon.
Bosanquet (119) argues that “the institution of marriage in all societies is a pattern within which the strains put by civilization on males and females alike must be resolved, a pattern within which men must learn, in return for a variety of elaborate rewards, new forms in which sexual spontaneity is still possible, and women must learn to discipline their receptivity to a thousand other considerations.”
A marriage between two people is more often than not succeeded by the establishment of a family. A family can be described as a group of people who share a genealogical link or share a common ancestor and who, most often than not, live in the same household. In the past societies, a family was usually made up of a mother, a father and their children.
In many other cultures, the extended family was also involved in the family makeup and even lived together as one, for instance in African societies, families were typically polygamous, which was an ordinary and well embedded concept.
The general family model has greatly evolved in the modern civilization and most of the family concepts and practices that were common in the past have been done away with. Polygamous, for example, is very rare in modern societies whereby most women do not concede to the idea of sharing their husbands or lovers with other women.
In the current times, the independent woman believes in providing her husband with every need he might require and therefore does not comprehend why he would want to marry another wife. Current families are consequently highly monogamous and nuclear. Extended families living together or being close is also another extinct notion that seems out of place in the current society (Edwards & David 121).
Selzer & Dominic (54) observe that with the emergence of the feminist movement and the freedom that has come with it, women can now get employed and build careers and as a result, the number of children has decreased within the family unit.
Nowadays, families usually have between 1 to 3 children unlike in the past when one family normally had between 8 to 15 children, or even more. This is because with the newly attained liberty, women are no longer the home keepers they used to be and are too busy with careers to be responsible for such large families.
Moreover, more and more women are currently choosing to remain single as the responsibility of families, not to mention the hardship of a marriage seem to be too much to cope with. Some choose to become single mothers and raise children on their own while others find it more revitalizing and peaceful not having to take care of anyone at all. Divorce is nevertheless a great contributor to single motherhood as well (Edwards & David 254).
Apart from the customary marriages that were widely recognized in the past, modernization has brought with it other types of marriages that were unheard of in the past societies. One of these types of marriages is the gay or same-sex marriages which involves the legal union of two individuals who are of the same biological sex.
Despite this type of marriage not having been legalized in most countries, it has become rampant and gradually countries are being pressured by human rights activists to legalize it. In the modern civilization these gay / homosexual relationships are being carried on in the open and the rest of the people are gradually adjusting to the idea. Some countries such as South Africa, Norway and Canada have already legalized same sex marriages.
In the past cultures, just the notion of two people of the same sex being involved in a relationship beyond friendship would have been considered an outrageous act. The persons would have most likely been cast out from societies and disowned by their own families.
According to the pro-gay human activists, gay individuals are just like the rest of us but with a different sexual orientation and that should not be used as an obstruction to their rights of privacy and freedom. Repudiating their need for a lifetime commitment with a loved one is unfair and oppressing. Gay individuals regard this as their fight for equality before the law (Goss & Strongheart 66)
On the other hand, opposition by anti-gay activists is based on direct and indirect social consequences of these marriages. They are seen as perverting the society and leading the future generations astray. Terming the union of two gay people as a “marriage” is seen to undermine the institution of marriage.
The issue of the children who are raised in this type of family with two mothers or fathers is also a matter of concern as it goes against the norm and might even scar a child for life. The religious aspect is also another point for debate whereby it is argued that even in the Holy Book, God meant for a man to marry a woman and not any other way. These new practices are considered to be self-impositions of the human race and are a disgrace before God. (Goss and Strongheart 109-15)
In conclusion, the marriage and family unit has witnessed change over the years and the customs of the past are seen as conservative in the modern society. The perception of marriage and family is expected to keep evolving with time and the only concession is that people should be open minded enough to acknowledge the changes but narrow-minded enough to know the limits of morality and ethical values and take account of the extent to which they should compromise.
Bosanquet, Helen D. The Family. London: Macmillan, 1906. Print.
Edwards, John & David Demo. Marriage and Family in Transition. Redford: Pearson, 1991. Print.
Goss, Robert & Strongheart, Amy Squire. Our Families, Our Values: Snapshots of Queer Kinship. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.
Selzer, Jack & Carpini, Dominic. Conversations Reading For Writing, 7th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2005. Print.