Is It OK to Marry “Those” People?   Leave a comment

I was struck by the research highlighted in a recent article published by The Atlantic, but could not believe the twisted tale the author wanted to prove.  The author, Mr. David A. Graham, Associate Editor of The Atlantic, compares two studies to make a conclusion that political considerations now outweigh race considerations in our society.  This takes some explanation; you can read The Atlantic’s article, here.

Mr. Graham wants to prove that a parent is more concerned about the politics of their child’s spouse than they are of the race of that spouse.  Politics or race … which is more important to a marriage.

Really?  That’s what we’re supposed to be most concerned with as parents?  I guess concerns like happiness, safety and opportunity should go right out the window.

Let’s look at the studies.

One smash-up of a study traces the attitude of parents towards having their child marry across political party lines.  The study is actually a conglomeration of studies spread across 50 years with different questions asked of different generations.  The modern question is phrased in a more divisive fashion than the older one … and as any researcher will tell you, the phrasing of the question influences the quality of the answer.  In this case, the 1960 question asked if the parent would be “displeased” if their child married outside of the parent’s political party.  In 2010, the question was would they be “upset” if their child married someone of the other party (emphasis is mine).

Given the 2010 question sets up a more emotional response and even presupposes a bifurcated political system, we should not be surprised with the result.  Voila!  We are living in a society that is more politically polarized than it was 50 years ago.  As true as that may be, to rest an argument on this “measure” of the strength of that parental feeling is truly building your foundation on sand.

I will tell the truth here:  my parents didn’t know Velda’s political party when we were married.  I don’t think it would have mattered much, as my parents often voted for different people.  They joked about how their votes would cancel each other out on election day.

Jokes didn’t mean that their votes were not important … they meant that their life together was more important than the votes that they cast.  Marriage trumps politics.  Sounds right to me.

But back to Mr. Graham.  He takes his flawed finding about the growing importance of politics in approving of your children’s spouse with a Gallup Poll, which has measured how parents might view interracial marriage.  This poll, conducted since 1958, asks not what you would think of your child marrying a person of another race; rather, it asks how you view interracial marriage.

Unfortunately, this survey is conducted differently than the smash-up study attempting to measure political acceptance.  The racial study asks a general question, not a specific question.  It asks what a parent thinks in general about interracial marriage, which is hardly the same thing as what a parent might think specifically about marriage between political parties.

For example, how do I feel in general about professional sports?  I think they are fine.  People are amused by watching sports.  I have no problem with sports; they’re great.

How do I feel specifically about professional wrestling?  I think it’s a waste of time.  It’s not “sport.”  I hate it.  I have no time for it.  It serves no purpose.

There’s a big difference between what I think about things in general and then what my specific opinions are on what I want to do with my time.  Therefore, what a parent thinks in general about interracial marriage is hardly the same thing as what a parent might think specifically about marriage between political parties.

How do I feel in general about the Democratic or Republican party is one thing … but how I feel about a specific politician is quite another.  Same goes with race:  how I feel in general about who someone marries has little to do with how I feel about whom they specifically marry.

But that doesn’t stop Mr. Graham:

The questions aren’t quite parallel, but one could probably assume safely that most Americans would rather have their child marry someone of a different color than a different political party. On the one hand, progress!”

And since we’ve read his thesis on the internet, we know it to be true.  Sure enough, NPR jumped on the same bandwagon; here’s an article they published on Monday, here.

Marriage must not be defined by race or politics.  Shakespeare said it many times:  love is blind.  And, as he showed in the most famous of love stories, Romeo and Juliet did not care for the political intrigue of their families; they only cared for their love.

I asked Velda to marry me on our first date: it was love at first sight … but that is a story for another day.

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