I'm just now noticing an interesting book review in Sunday's Times on "The Marriage-Go-Round." It's demographer and sociologist Andrew Cherlin's look at the institution.
Some of it is familiar. The U.S. marriage rate is the highest of any western country, but our divorce rate is alarmingly high. The author, yes, notes that conservative and religious Arkansas had the second-highest divorce rate in the country in 2004. (And, boy, does Arkansas hate gay marriage because, you know, it threatens the institution of marriage.) From the review:
Marriage is our battleground. Only in America, Mr. Cherlin says, are gay people campaigning so determinedly for the right to marry. Most gay men and lesbians in Europe, he maintains, view marriage as another oppressive heterosexual institution.
How to explain this peculiar paradox — we idealize marriage and yet we’re so bad at it. Mr. Cherlin, who is also the author of “Public and Private Families,” has taken upon himself the task of explaining and has come up with an original thesis: There are two powerful forces at war in America, a historic belief in marriage grounded in our religious heritage on the one hand and a foundational principle of individual freedom and a post-modern sense of the right to self-fulfillment on the other. When these values clash, breakup and divorce follow.