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Is Romney's Outdated View of Family a Threat to Modern Society?

Mitt Romney's attack on unmarried people during this week's debate left me wondering: Are his outdated family values becoming a threat to ours?

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As Stephanie Coontz explained in her fascinating 2006 myth-busting book, Marriage, A History , despite the cultural power the traditional nuclear family has, it’s actually only very recently in our history (about 200 years) that people began marrying for love and emotional fulfillment. For the 5,000 years prior, marriage was an institution based on economic necessity and contractual obligation where the idea of marrying for love would have been considered dangerous and absurd.

When emotional fulfillment gained primacy within marriage in the late 19th century, a funny thing happened: Marriage became more satisfying as a personal relationship, but more fragile and fraught as an institution. The arc of history is long, and when it comes to the relatively new invention of love-based marriage, we’re still just figuring it out.

There is simply no single right way to do relationships, marriage, or family anymore. Depending on your perspective, that’s either immensely liberating or cause for alarm.

The important question for those of us in the reality-based community is how to meet people where they are. Just think about your own extended family: Do they all resemble Romney’s ideal of what a family should be? Do your friends? My guess is probably not. There is nothing inherently damaging or intrinsically problematic about family structures that deviate from some nuclear family ideal. Presidents Obama and Clinton were both raised in single-mother households, after all.

Romney can pine for some regressive 1950s white-picket-fence vision that was a historical blip on the cultural radar (for some privileged white heterosexual folks), but unless he has a super secret plan to make lifelong heterosexual marriages, babies, and home-cooked meals mandatory for all adults, we’re never going back there.

For too long, we’ve accepted what the Mitt Romneys and Rabbi Rosenblatts of the world have told us: that we are a threat to their family values and their belief systems. But the truth is, they are quickly becoming a threat to ours.

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