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Should Marriage Be Expected To Make You Happy?

There is, it seems, a surge underway in gay divorce. This is hardly surprising — marriage is difficult, no matter what sex your spouse is — but sad all the same:

It’s not a subject that marriage-equality groups tend to trumpet on their websites, but gay couples are at the start of a divorce boom. One reason is obvious: More couples are eligible. According to a report by UCLA’s Williams Institute, nearly 50,000 of the approximately 640,000 gay couples in the U.S. in 2011 were married…The marriage rate, in states that allowed it, was quickly rising toward that of heterosexual couples: In Massachusetts as of that year, 68 percent of gay couples were married, compared with 91 percent of heterosexual couples. Another reason…is that while first-wave gay marriages have proved more durable than straight ones (according to the Williams Institute, about one percent of gay marriages were dissolving each year, compared with 2 percent for different-sex couples), that’s not expected to last. Most lawyers I spoke to assume that the gap will soon vanish, once the backlog of long-term and presumably more stable gay couples have married, leaving the field to the young and impulsive.

The article delves into the gap between marriage equality and divorce equality, which is creating a chaotic legal limbo for gay couples who wish to dissolve their partnerships. It’s interesting and worth a read. But let’s expand the central question outward. Whether you’re gay or straight, is marriage a viable enterprise in the first place?

For the sake of argument, let’s leave aside the divine mandate. In strictly practical terms, marriage appears to be the best social system in which to raise children, and that might be its best defense. But placing the goal of child-rearing uppermost — ahead of the commitment to the sustaining of romantic love between adults — has become anachronistic in Western culture in the modern era. And so: of all possible social constructs between romantic partners, is marriage the most likely to bring happiness? Should happiness even be the goal?

Marriage seems to be analogous to democracy, in that it’s imperfect, but the least bad option. There is, perhaps, something to be said for Katharine Hepburn’s theory that partners should live a few doors down from each other. What do you think?