Of course the discussion about the relevance of the British Monarchy is going to come up when an event like the wedding of William and Kate occurs. The Monarchy is an institution that is more symbolic than it it is politically potent. It is also an institution that costs a lot of money perpetuate. So, what are the British and what is the world getting for all the cost and attention?
The wedding of William and Kate does several things that are relevant in our world today. Probably the most important aspect of the wedding of William and is that it serves as a benchmark for reflection in many areas of life that matter to millions of Westerners. Three areas of reflection that matter are marriage, tradition, and celebrity.
With the most recent major benchmark of this kind being the wedding Charles and Diana 30 years ago, William and Kate provide an opportunity for comparison. Many people are comparing Kate and Diana, which is fine. What this article looks at is the tone and meaning of conversations about marriage when Charles and Diana got married and how do they compare to those same topics of conversation now that William and Kate are getting married.
Reflections on marriage. In 1981, the dominant conversation about marriage was really the conversation about divorce. In that year, the the divorce rate peaked. Questions about why this was happening, what feminism had to do with it, what emerging “no-fault” divorce laws were doing to marriage were being asked and debated. The soaring divorce rate also exposed some things about marriage that did not seem to match the myths of marriage that so many people believed and tried hard to show. With the divorce of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1996, they were certainly a couple whose lives revealed both the myths of marriage and the
Other questions about divorce had to with its effects on children. There were “broken homes” that were the result of the divorce. The damages that children experienced from divorce were assumed permanent. Children coming from a “broken home” were stigmatized. Efforts were underway to try to ease stigmas for children.
in 2011, the conversation about marriage is very different. It has move from the divorce scare into a three distinct directions: relevance, who can marry, and saving marriage.
RELEVANCE: The first 21st century marriage conversation is about the relevance of marriage. With the rise of cohabitation in 1990’s and 2000’s, the question is not whether a marriage will last, but rather will one even occur in the first place? There is a lot more relational ambiguity now as compared to 1981. With cohabitation, hook-ups, friends with benefits and other kinds of non-marital sexual, it is clear that marriage is one of many forms of romantic/sexual relationships people are having. The question about the relevance of marriage is not whether marriage is disappearing, but rather then what role it plays compared to other forms of relationships. The wedding of William and Kate is, in part, the institution and tradition of the British Monarchy asserting its values on this conversation of marriage. The power, wealth, and even celebrity of the Monarchy says that marriage still matters. 2 billion people watching are getting a lesson in cultural support for the institution of marriage through ceremony and ritual. There would not be this sort of gathering and pageantry had William and Kate decided to cohabit, hook up or become friends with benefits.
WHO CAN MARRY? The second 21st century marriage conversation is about who can marry. No one had even considered that gay marriage was a possibility in 1981. Now gay marriage laws are being enacted around the world and in the United States. The Defense of Marriage Act looks like it is going be directly challenged and the Obama Administration has decided not to enforce it. There are strong advocates on both sides of the issue. So, on the one hand the relevance of marriage is in decline and on the other hand, expanding the definition of marriage to include same sex couples is a hot topic.
SAVE MARRIAGE: The third 21st century marriage conversation is about saving the traditional marriage. In a sense, it is a push back against the other two trends. Much of this effort is coming from religious groups. This conversation is about keeping marriage between a man and a woman, about keeping sex inside marriage, and about getting and staying married. This third conversation is not new, but it still holds a prominent place in the current conversation of marriage. It also harkens to the tradition of the Monarchy. It is expected that William and Kate will stay married. The message is this: A marriage is a permanent thing.
Oh, and one more thing. There will be children. William and Kate are to have children – an heir and a spare at least. It is not an option, it is an expectation. The very existence of the Monarchy depends on this fact. Reproduction is required. Why? So the Monarchy can continue. So a son can marry in three decades, we will do this all again.
Yes, William and Kate matter. They provide us a benchmark to discuss marriage.