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You voted for it, you got it — conservatives looking at state of heterosexual marriage

Now that the election is over, the self-appointed marriage police, having put gays “back in their place” regarding marriage, are turning to all of you depraved heterosexuals out there.

“Protection of marriage” is now the watchword for many activists fighting to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying. Some conservatives, however, say marriage in America began unraveling long before the latest gay-rights push and are pleading for a fresh, soul-searching look at the institution.

“When you talk about protecting marriage, you need to talk about divorce,” said Bryce Christensen, a Southern Utah University professor who writes frequently about family issues.

While Christensen doesn’t oppose the campaign to enact state and federal bans on gay marriage, he worries it’s distracting from immediate threats to marriage’s place in society.

“If those initiatives are part of a broader effort to reaffirm lifetime fidelity in marriage, they’re worthwhile,” he said. “If they’re isolated — if we don’t address cohabitation and casual divorce and deliberate childlessness — then I think they’re futile and will be brushed aside.”

Gay-rights supporters, during their recent losing battles against gay-marriage bans in 11 states, often argued that if marriage in America was in fact troubled, it was heterosexuals — not gays — who bore the blame.

“That was the best argument same-sex marriage advocates had: ‘Where were you when no-fault divorce went through?'” said Allan Carlson, a conservative scholar who runs a family-studies center in Rockford, Ill. “Any thoughtful defender of marriage has to say, ‘You’re right. We were asleep at the switch in the ’60s and ’70s.'”

Carlson hopes the same-sex marriage debate will encourage a broader national conversation.

“For the first time in about 50 years we are honestly looking at the state of marriage in America, and what we have allowed to happen to it,” he said. “I hope the conservative side will do a little soul-searching and look for ways to rebuild traditional marriage into something stronger.”

Carlson decries no-fault divorce, where neither spouse is held responsible for the breakup, but acknowledges that its demise is not imminent. He proposes more modest steps: tax revisions benefiting married couples, a more positive portrayal of marriage in textbooks, policies aiding young college graduates so they could afford to marry sooner.

In several of the states that approved gay-marriage bans on Nov. 2, initiatives are underway to bolster heterosexual marriage. A bill pending in Michigan’s legislature would encourage premarital education; Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and his wife have invited 1,000 couples to join them in a Valentine’s Daycovenant marriage ceremony in which they would voluntarily reduce their options for a quick divorce.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding