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September 10, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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C.R.E.A.M. – We’re Going To The Chapel

Opponents of gay marriage argue that it would be wrong for government to ‘change the definition of marriage’ because it might alter the role marriage plays in our society. But they have ignored that economic factors are already changing the role marriage plays in our society in a way that makes the institution of marriage more compatible with homosexual equality.

In a world with clearly defined gender roles, marriage was an institution concerned with the division of labour between a man and a woman. It was traditionally the role of a man to enter the labour force and be the family bread-winner, and the role of the women was to be the homemaker who completed various household chores such as raising kids. Men and women specialised in various tasks to their mutual benefit, making marriage an institution where opposites actually did attract.

But many things have changed the role of marriage since the midpoint of the 20th century. First, there was the mini industrial revolution which brought us such amazing inventions as the microwave oven, the dishwasher, the clothes washer and dryer. Industrialisation in the Third World has made new clothes vastly cheaper, meaning we place less of a premium on skills like knitting and sewing. Second, the invention of birth control pills gave women control of their fertility leading to smaller family sizes. Third, the feminist movement pushed for women to be given equal opportunity, leading to more educated women entering the workforce. Furthermore, the wages available to women have increased through equal pay legislation and broader social acceptance.

All of this has reduced the need to have a ‘stay at home’ partner in a marriage, and also increased the opportunity cost of doing so. If marriage had kept the same purpose and role as it had traditionally held it might well have died out by now. But instead the nature of marriage has evolved. The benefits of efficiency through cohabitation still apply, but younger generations see marriage more as an opportunity to enjoy shared experiences with someone who has similar interests. A long term partner can be a complementary good to other things— for example, if you enjoy traveling, having a partner who also enjoys traveling enhances that experience.

This means that younger generations are quite happy to see marriage include homosexuals, and marriage has also become an institution which homosexuals are more interested in associating with. One caveat: I believe it’s likely that this shift in the focus of marriage from a predominantly economic to social institution is a significant cause of growing inequality in Western society. In a world where interests define who we marry, the educated and intelligent marry each other, entrenching social stratification and reducing mobility.

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