Pending the birth of Princess Kate’s baby, Lady Cosima Rose Alexandra Windsor is currently 24th in line for the British throne. Lady Cosima is the nearly three-year-old great granddaughter of a grandfather of the current queen.

I didn’t know that, and I really wouldn’t care, but I did easily look it up, and I could do so because Western society has used marriage and lineage to arbitrate hierarchical standing for a long time.

US Supreme Court hearings on gay rights and changes in legal status of same sex marriage in several states recently have focused attention on the latter issue. However, in an article largely devoted to another topic (elite thought-policing), Mark Steyn nevertheless does some interesting stat dropping on the likely extent of gay marriage:

“Canada … has had gay marriage coast to coast for a decade. Statistically speaking, one-third of 1 percent of all Canadian nuptials are same-sex, and, of that nought-point-three-three, many this last decade have been American gays heading north for a marriage license they’re denied in their own country. So gay marriage will provide an important legal recognition for an extremely small number of persons who do not currently enjoy it.”

Which leads me to connect the dots to another phenomenon in the news the last week: the “Princeton Wives” kerfluffle. Susan A. Patton, one of the first women to attend the university, wrote:

“As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart as or smarter than we are. And I say again — you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”

Now this is somewhat opposite of the horror movie of the 1970s where capable women were replaced by robots more amenable to their husbands’ image. However, Patton was making a point that is relevant: women (and men) who want families are going to be weighed down without access to choices “worthy of them”, at least in their eyes.

Ron Douthat explained why this comment was so infuriating to some in a New York Times piece:

“…But really she’s something much more interesting: a traitor to her class.

“Her betrayal consists of being gauche enough to acknowledge publicly a truth that everyone who’s come up through Ivy League culture knows intuitively — that elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class.

“…The intermarriage of elite collegians is only one of these mechanisms — but it’s an enormously important one. The outraged reaction to her comments notwithstanding, Patton wasn’t telling Princetonians anything they didn’t already understand. Of course Ivy League schools double as dating services. Of course members of elites — yes, gender egalitarians, the males as well as the females — have strong incentives to marry one another, or at the very least find a spouse from within the wider meritocratic circle. What better way to double down on our pre-existing advantages? What better way to minimize, in our descendants, the chances of the dread phenomenon known as ‘regression to the mean’?

“That the actual practice of meritocracy mostly involves a strenuous quest to avoid any kind of downward mobility, for oneself or for one’s kids, is something every upper-class American understands deep in his or her highly educated bones.”

I’m sure that I’ve heard LDS blogs speak of BYU as performing the same function. In the CofChrist, Graceland University fills the role; if you haven’t heard of that school, it’s only because our elites are smaller in number, I suspect.

This past summer, Jason DeParle noted in The New York Times that we are now seeing “two classes divided by ‘I do.'” And while people are going on and on about Wall Street and income inequality, it turns out that marriage inequality is one of the biggest things making people less equal, accounting for as much as 40% of the difference in incomes: “It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged.” [cited from here]

Mark Steyn notes as well:

“In the upper echelons of society, our elites practice what they don’t preach. Scrupulously nonjudgmental about everything except traditional Christian morality, they nevertheless lead lives in which, as Charles Murray documents in his book “Coming Apart,” marriage is still expected to be a lifelong commitment. It is easy to see moneyed gay newlyweds moving into such enclaves, and making a go of it. As the Most Reverend Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, said just before his enthronement the other day, ‘You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship.’ …But, amongst the type of gay couple that gets to dine with the Archbishop of Canterbury, he’s probably right.

“Lower down the socioeconomic scale, the quality gets more variable. One reason why conservative appeals to protect the sacred procreative essence of marriage have gone nowhere is because Americans are rapidly joining the Scandinavians in doing most of their procreating without benefit of clergy. Seventy percent of black babies are born out of wedlock, so are 53 percent of Hispanics… and 70 percent of the offspring of poor white women. Over half the babies born to mothers under 30 are now “illegitimate” (to use a quaintly judgmental formulation). For the first three-and-a-half centuries of American settlement the bastardy rate (to be even quainter) was a flat line in the basement of the graph, stuck at 2 or 3 percent all the way to the eve of the Sixties.”

So, if gay marriage actually applies to so few couples, and mostly will be exercised by the kind of couples most likely to produce stable relationships, should we not be more concerned about the return of a more ancient pattern: the elite classes marry each other in economic alliances that perpetuate their privilege while less privileged classes just live together as long as economically convenient?

And economic convenience for the less privileged classes is a more-and-more tenuous concept, as noted in The Atlantic:

“Low-skill men have had a rough two generations. The evaporation of manufacturing work has gutted their main source of employment, while globalization has held down their wages. Marriage has declined the most among men whose wages have declined the most…

“In a dating pool where poor women are more likely to be surrounded by men with low and falling fortunes, more women have ditched a union for good economic reasons: it could be a financial drain. In The Truly Disadvantaged,  William Julius Wilson, argued that ‘high rates of unemployment and incarceration meant that the local dating pool was populated by unmarriageable men–and the result was that women chose to live independently.’

“That women find themselves drifting ‘unintentionally’ into parenthood with men they have no intent of marrying creates another generation of problems. Children raised in two-parent households are more likely to go to college, more likely to be employed, and more likely to earn a high wage. The rise of unwed mothers might be logical for many of these women. But there is too much evidence that it deepens the divide between the haves and have-nots in America.

Now, put that highlighted portion of The Atlantic quote together together with the notion above that the meritocracy, in practice, uses marriage to prevent downward mobility of its own, and you see social policy toward marriage in a different light. If you make it tolerable for people to remain unwed among your own children’s potential competitors, you can secure privilege for your offspring — simultaneously having an untroubled sleep at night — and it costs a lot less than significantly increasing the pool of marriageable men among the less privileged would cost. It is an evolutionary win for the meritocracy (even if unplanned), provided that you can continue to divert both genders in the poorer classes from noticing that they are becoming worse off with time.

And it is in this context that I want to consider what LDS theology ought, perhaps, to be contributing to this discussion.  Marriage is important in LDS theology to an extent that is uncommon in other versions of Christianity; try to imagine an LDS version of the afterlife exclusively for singles (who often find earthly life in LDS society a bit, shall we say, unfulfilling). By contrast, there is plenty of room for singles in the “heaven” of other faiths.

wedding ringsSo, I am suggesting that here we have a case where LDS theological imperatives for marriage coincide with a societal need that today’s elite classes, conservative or liberal, have absolutely no incentive to address, and every incentive to postpone as long as rioting doesn’t get too bad. (In the Community of Christ, I think we’d come at this from a worth-of-all-persons-concept of theology, but I think we’d end up in the same place.)  Mormon theology should be arguing for social policies that overcome obstacles to marriage. Preferences for the poor and marginalized that liberal Mormons claim should be a special concern ought then to be focused on social policies that make it more rational for the poor and the marginalized to marry. If marriage is materially good, let alone of Divine intent, we ought to be promoting it for anyone who would want it.

Instead, we get distracted into fights about keeping the unworthy — however defined — out of marriage, and there is a trap there. As Doug Gibson noted in a news article, the LDS April Conference was forced to address this issue in a talk by Apostle Bednar on chastity (reviewed more completely by our own Hawkgrrrl here). Gibson concluded:

“The LDS faith’s ‘Law of Chastity,’ which opposes fornication and regards marriage between a man and a woman as the preferred structure in which to raise children, used to have the implied consent of most Americans. That’s not so any more. Elder Bednar acknowledged as much, saying, ‘The doctrine I have described will seem to be archaic and outdated to many people in a world that increasingly mocks the sanctity of procreation and minimizes the worth of human life. But the Lord’s truth is not altered by fads, popularity or public opinion polls.’

“How this cultural change in the definition of morality affects younger members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, in my opinion, of more interest to LDSChurch leaders than gay marriage or whether women can hold the church’s priesthood. I think the biggest concern of church leaders is making sure that teenage members and young adults, as they embrace the independence of adulthood, remain active, faithful Mormons. The lowering of ages for missionaries for both sexes provides a quicker transition from high school, to a mission, and presumably, to a temple marriage and children.”

So, here are some questions to consider:

Does social policy to make men better candidates for marriage hold more promise for uplifting poor single women than policies to make single motherhood more bearable?

What would be examples of such policies?

Could church leadership support such policies independent of “worthiness” concerns, or of concerns about whether the marriages that resulted would have anything to do with ordinances within the church?