Marriage and Culture: evolving standards of relationships
In Obergefell v Hodges (2015) the US Supreme Court rules that state bans on same-sex marriage violated same-sex couples’ rights under the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. The Court’s decision, while controversial, is now the law of the land and whether anyone disagrees is a moot point. Ultimately, the Court’s ruling is influenced by evolving cultural standards, science and technology.
Humanity evolved through natural selection: traits and behaviors that promote survival and reproductive fitness are inherited by or taught to offspring, whereas traits and behaviors that do not promote survival and reproductive fitness die with the offspring. The environment culls the weak. Civilization made survival and reproduction easier, reducing the impact of natural selection, but in terms of social behavior it grew more complicated.
Civilization needed laws to protect its structural integrity, making it safe to belong. Traditions, mores, and religion intermingled with the complexity of communities, adding nuance to the concept of monogamy; thus, the social contract of marriage was created. As it relates to reproductive fitness, devotion to one mate is as counterintuitive as homosexuality, but the former is more likely to produce offspring than the latter. Advances in bioscience and technology have changed that.
Artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, surrogate mothers, frozen eggs and sperm, and genetic engineering enable reproductive fitness among same-sex couples. This defeats the belief only opposite-sex couples can further a lineage and degrades the original purpose of marriage. Moreover, legacies typically passed down to offspring can be bestowed on any child, regardless or origin, and is not exclusive to marital status or a particular gender.
Is marriage a social contract that solidifies the idea of monogamy, a belief one should only have a single sexual partner over time? Does this extend to the creation of a family? If the first is true, marriage is merely a symbolic devotion to one’s mate and any argument about which genders comprise a valid marriage is irrelevant. If the second is true – marriage leads to the generation of a family – again gender is irrelevant because bioengineering can provide same-sex couples with offspring as readily as opposite-sex couples.
Furthermore, claims about the sanctity of marriage is undermined by divorce, which has maintained a steady rate over the last fifty years while the number of people entering into marriage has declined. Traditionalists who decry same-sex marriage as a perversion of matrimony fail to account for how divorce undermines the value of that social contract. It seems more people prefer the freedom to continue choosing new partners just as natural selection dictates.
Therefore, marriage is largely symbolic, a tradition increasingly diminished by modern culture. Static traditions are unlikely to last in a society that continues to innovate and, over time, those ideas that constrict growth will fall away. Traits once believed to be a weakness are no more than differences that add complexity and nuance to humanity. Those who hold views counter to the evolving cultural standard will either adapt or go extinct.