The Humanity of Marriage

If quality marriages were about minimizing differences then incest among identical twins would result in the best marriages.
Obviously, that’s absurd. What really matters is not similarity but compatibility. We all belong to the same species. Therefore, all sort of people can successfully procreate and live a happy live.
Of course, there are some differences that render individuals incompatible. I am glad, for example, that Gordon Hinckley has ended the practice of advising gay men to marry women. Gay and straight people can be compatible in many ways but marriage is clearly the exception.
Beyond sexual orientation, most other differences are not valid reasons for marriage prohibitions.
Philosophically, racism is the notion that one kind of human beings should not breed with another. Dog breeds, for example, require that saint bernards do not breed with German shepherds or Newfoundland dogs.
The very suggestion that rich people should not marry poor people, that smart people should not marry stupid people, or that different ethnic or religious groups should not intermarry establishes racism. Those prohibitions deploy the same logic as the statement that dachshunds should not procreate with poodles.
On average, of course, it may be perfectly true that any dimension of difference may lead to greater divorce rates. However, averages do not manifest themselves in the lives of particular couple.
To any couple, the probability of divorce is either 0 or 100%. You either get divorced or you don’t.
Couples need to assess their compatibility for themselves. In many cases, they will be perfectly fine.

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9 Responses

  1. profxm says:

    Hellmut, overall I like this post and think it makes good sense. However, there are two points I think warrant clarification. First, while it is true that assuming statistical data applies to individuals is a fallacy (the ecological fallacy), I don’t think it is completely accurate to say “averages do not manifest themselves in the lives of [a] particular couple.” Technically, this is true. But practically, the averages come from typical couples.

    What’s more, there are certain factors that increase and decrease the probability of divorce, meaning the probability of divorce for a given couple can be somewhere between 0% and 100%. Lehrer and Chiswick found that the probability of divorce increases for inter-religious marriages. Additionally, there is good research indicating higher probabilities of divorce for couples with the following characteristics: younger age at marriage, lower socio-economic status, those lacking an affiliation (though avowed atheists have lower divorce rates than conservative Christians), those who infrequently attend religious services (but have a religious affiliation), people who have kids, people in different cultural regions (which implies geographical variations), and people with less educational attainment. In practical terms, the odds of divorce for two highly educated, well-to-do atheists from the same culture who marry at 35 and don’t have any kids are much lower than the odds of divorce for two mildly religious, poor teenagers from different cultures who marry at 18 when one gets pregnant. Some of the first marriages will fail; some of the second will succeed. But probability wise, the odds favor the first succeeding and the second failing.

  2. Seth R. says:

    Kind of odd that the same Pres. Kimball who was discouraging interracial marriage also made the remark that “any” faithful LDS man and woman could, given enough commitment and selflessness, marry and “make it work.” He seemed to be of the opinion that the primary factor in the success of a marriage was how much work you put into it.

    Guess he didn’t draw the connection to the interracial issue, but most people are complex and full of their own personal conflicts and contradictions.

  3. Hellmut says:

    profxm, to answer you first question, one would have to get into the foundations of statistics. I am deploying Bayesian probabilities. You are referring to maximum likelihood and ordinary least square regression.
    No doubt, differences can be detrimental. I doubt though that people without differences would make for the best couples.
    If identity were a requirement for a successful marriage then there wouldn’t be any hope for heterosexuals like us. More importantly, one would forego the benefits of comparative advantage, which would emaciate the value of the division of labor.
    Finally, I am also beginning to become skeptical about the demand the stability be the dominant quality of marriage. I would rather not get divorced, thank you very much, but a couple that will ultimately divorce may still enjoy an enjoyable and productive relationship.

  4. Hellmut says:

    That’s a good point, Seth. I never put those two statements together. May be, the universal compatibility claim was a holdover from the good old days when Africans did not have access to the temple.

  5. aerin says:

    Didn’t have a chance to comment on this before now – I think you know by now Hellmut that I agree with you. I think the lack of comments in this post shows that your logic is difficult to argue with.

    I’m also astounded by Kimball’s comments (of course, I shouldn’t be) because he didn’t qualify that in case of abuse. I haven’t read the entire quote of course, but it should be obvious to most people (including faithful LDS from numerous GA statements) that abuse should not be tolerated and a person should not have to stay in an abusive marriage.

    btw – this would further support the idea that every so often the larger LDS leadership should have some sort of “Vatican II” like the Roman Catholic Church does where they review prior policies to make sure they still are relevant and (depending on your POV, from God).

    It’s heresy to suggest that the LDS be like the RCC (ha), but it would help prevent confusion. Right now, an individual member could look at a statement like that from SWK and think that they needed to work harder to remain in their abusive marriage.

    With a definitive statement, disavowing previous statements – at least this would be clarified.

    I’m not trying to take away from the prior post, but I do think that the definition of marriage has changed over time. I think that’s a good thing (i.e., women are no longer thought of as property). I don’t know how an organization who issues a statement like the proclamation on the family can really address the evolution of marriage.

  6. Hellmut says:

    I don’t know how an organization who issues a statement like the proclamation on the family can really address the evolution of marriage.

    That is a huge problem. Historically, families have had to adapt to a great variety of circumstances. A theology that does not allow for flexibility puts its believers at risk.
    To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a society where the majority of families met the standards of the proclamation.

  7. profxm says:

    Hellmut, you’re right and here’s the reference: The Way We Never Were by Stephanie Coontz.

  8. Seth R. says:

    Yeah, didn’t guys in manual labor jobs used to be away from their families for most of the kid’s lives? There’s that old stereotype of “father has gone to sea.” You know, where the dad’s on a whaling ship and doesn’t see his family for years at a time, and all the while, mom has to take a manual labor job to feed the kids….

    You can argue about the Proclamation promoting an ideal. But I don’t think it’s ever been the reality for most of humanity, or even a possible or achievable reality.

  9. Hellmut says:

    Yes, husbands worked away from home for years on end. And women participated in family businesses forever. Farming and most of the trades would have been impossible without mothers’ contributions.

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