Over at Dalrock’s, there’s a wide-ranging discussion going on about the moral distinctions (if any) between hookup culture, serial LTRs, serial marriages, lifelong marriage, &c.
One particular comment caught my eye:
I see marriage as coming together for mainly two purposes – spiritual union and/or physical union – over a significant time-period. I don’t see why “until death parts us” is a necessary quantifier.
Because I am a lightworker, and desire only the edification of my fellow man, let me explain why “’till death do us part” is indeed a necessary part of the marriage bond.
Consider what happens when a marriage dissolves. Yes, there’s heartbreak, a storm of recriminations, anger, damage piled onto children, money handed over to lawyers, and, occasionally, a murder.
But, more importantly, there’s stuff to divide. Everything owned by either the man or his wife is now up for grabs, and everything that was once “theirs” must now become either “his” or “hers”. The fact that the marriage may end this way colors the entire enterprise.
Consider what happens if a marriage dissolves in which labor was divided along traditional lines: The man ventured forth into the world and earned money, and his wife tended to the home and children. There are only two real possibilities on dissolution: The man keeps everything (under the theory that he earned it) and the wife is left destitute, or half of everything he earned is turned over to his wife (under the theory of community property).
The problem is that neither outcome, in prospect, is compatible with the couple undertaking the traditional arrangement. If the wife is likely to be left with nothing (the rarely-realized feminist boogyman) she will be very unlikely to be willing to devote herself to home and hearth. On the other hand, if the man is at risk of losing half of everything he has earned to his ex (the “find a woman I don’t like and buy her a house” theory of marriage) he is unlikely to want his wife to stay home.
Division of Labor
In other words, once you redefine marriage as anything other than a lifetime bond, you create massive disincentives for couples to pursue the traditional arrangement. (Might this have been the feminist plan all along? Discuss amongst yourselves.)
Ok, you might say. So what? What’s so special about the model of the breadwinner man and the housewife? Well, what’s special about it is that it’s the only economic model of marriage that makes much sense.
Division of labor is a really, really big deal. It is vastly more efficient for men to specialize in their trades and then to combine their efforts to produce a final product, than it is for each man to attempt to make all things for himself. This applies at the micro level to the manufacture of a single product, and at the macro level to the organization of an economy. It also applies the family and the household.
When a man takes a wife and starts a family, a little enterprise is created. The only significant reason that this enterprise is more efficient and productive than its two members would be on their own is the division of labor. If the man and wife have a modern, feminist, equalist, “50/50” marriage, there’s (essentially) no gain in efficiency; each might as well be living alone.
So: If you remove permanence from the definition of marriage, you destroy the incentive structure that permits division of labor. Absent division of labor, marriage lacks any economic justification. Sooner or later, whether they realize it or not, people stop doing things that aren’t rewarded.
If it’s not forever, it’s not marriage.