Rick Santorum’s Bemuddlement About the Decline of Marriage

The Pew Research Center reported today that only 51% of U.S. adults are married—the lowest percentage since 1960. The median age for brides and grooms has never been higher (26.5 years and 28.7 years, respectively), and alternative adult living arrangements—cohabitation, single-person households, and single parenthood—are becoming more prevalent.

These trends have also been observed in most other developed nations. In a United Nations analysis of 77 countries, 75 showed the age of females at their first marriage rising since the 1970s.

The PRC does not attempt to explain why marriage has been in decline, but it does note that college-educated adults are more likely to marry than less-educated ones. Business cycles, however, are not a clear factor.

GOP Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum heard about the report through Huffington Post but apparently did not read it. His conclusions were already in place and so he wasted no time citing the declining marriage rate as “an effect of [the] changing definition of marriage.”

Never mind that the expanded definition of marriage has boosted the positive side of the ledger. If the ideology doesn’t fit with the facts, just pound it in there, Rick. Opponents of marriage equality have been trying to convince us for years that same-sex marriage (SSM) will somehow destroy the very fabric of the institution, and yet they can’t point to a single straight couple who cancelled their marriage plans upon hearing that same-sex couples were allowed to marry. Nor can they explain what exactly they do mean by this absurd claim.

To be fair, Santorum came close to honestly stating his underlying concerns at a recent campaign speech in Iowa:

Really–wow–um okay, well let’s see if we can have a discussion. We can flesh out some, well, let’s look at what’s going to be taught in our schools because now we have same sex couples being the same and their sexual activity being seen as equal and being affirmed by society as heterosexual couples and their activity.

I think that translates as “gay sex is not equal to hetero sex.” There we have it.

If declining marriage rates were Rick Santorum’s real concern, then he should welcome SSM with open arms. But his thinking on this issue is terminally muddled by phobias and ideological commitments that leave no space for clarity. GLBTs are not “attacking” marriage; they are not “against” marriage. So there is no need for a “Defense of Marriage Act” or a “National Organization for Marriage.” Both of these names would be more appropriate in a context of concern about rising divorce rates, spousal and child abuse, welfare of single mothers, maternity and pre-natal care, health insurance, family planning, prevention of unwanted pregnancies, and the like.

In the face of so much that needs doing to help families stay together and thrive, why does Rick Santorum obsess about—of all things—a human rights movement that aims to bring more loving and committed couples to the altar?

One can only speculate.

Update 12/22/11: Santorum Still Confused

In an interview on FOX News yesterday, Santorum had this to say about his opposition to same-sex marriage:

And I believe what’s best for the country is to give children their birthright, which is the best opportunity for them to have a mother and a father. … There are a lot of other important relationships, and I don’t dismiss other relationships as important [sic]. But there’s one essential relationship that’s necessary to give children their birthright.

Caution: Please don’t divulge the following insight to Santorum’s campaign staff:

His remark hurts his chances of nomination much more than he may imagine. It will almost certainly alienate not only gays, but also the following groups:

  • Parents, children, and extended families of gays
  • Friends and co-workers of gays
  • Members of welcoming congregations
  • Childless married couples
  • Friends, families, and co-workers of childless married couples
  • People who worry about cognitive dissonance in a presidential candidate
  • People who value moral clarity in a president

Santorum may reckon he can discount all these people because they’re probably Democrats anyway (especially the last two). But he would be wrong.

May future GOP political candidates—at every level of government—listen and learn.

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