June 3, 2014
In a few short weeks, the new FYI Channel will air the first episode of "Married at First Sight," a show that connects six people with strangers and dares them to forever entangle their social, emotional and financial well-being, for better or worse, in sickness and health, on camera and off.
" 'Married at First Sight,'" reads the official description, "is an extreme social experiment following six brave souls who are yearning for a life-long partnership as they agree to a provocative proposal: getting legally married the moment they first meet. … The couples will never meet or know each other until they walk down the aisle and see each other face-to-face, for the first time, when they get married." It debuts July 8.
I love this idea. Not because it will lead to three beautiful, blissful unions. It won't, obviously. But because it forces us to reckon with, once again, our complete and utter hypocrisy about marriage.
The Defense of Marriage Act, first enacted in 1996, is still the law of the land.
It purports to defend the institution of marriage from forces that threaten to cheapen it or steer it away from its unique and holy purpose.
Forces like "Married at First Sight"? ABC's "The Bachelor" and its equally dysfunctional twin sister, "The Bachelorette"? Fox's "I Wanna Marry Harry"?
No. Forces like two consenting, in-love, committed adults who would legitimately like a shot at spending their lives together. Except they're gay. So, you know … there goes the marriage neighborhood.
"We heterosexuals have been heroic in our ability to cheapen the institution," says marriage researcher Eli Finkel, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University.
And positively rabid in our misguided "defense" of it.
DOMA lets states refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted by other states, thereby denying an enormous number of legal and financial protections to legally married couples. The United States Supreme Court struck down one section last summer, but the rest of the law still stands.
That means legally married same-sex couples (or their widows/widowers) who move to a state that doesn't recognize gay marriage don't have access to federal marital protections.
Guess who does? The jokers who get married at first sight on a reality show. Are we serious with this?
"There are a whole lot of cultural and historical variations in how we execute marriage and how marriage functions," Finkel says. "It begins with polygamy in the Bible and involves wide variations in who makes marital decisions. Are they made by parents? Village elders? The individuals who want to marry?
"This idea that marriage has an inherent structure for how it's supposed to work is contradicted by every cultural and historical analysis of marriage ever conducted."
"Married at First Sight?" Bring it on.
Remind me, yet again, that marriage is an institution strong enough to withstand some pretty major nonsense.
Give me one more example of how someone else's union — someone I don't know and will likely never cross paths with — has absolutely no bearing on the success or failure of mine.
Train the cameras one more time on some "brave souls" who yearn for a "life-long partnership." Give them all the legal and financial help they could ever want to make that happen. Brand it an "extreme social experiment."
And then explain to me what exactly we're defending marriage against.
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