Why is marriage still sacred?
Certain aspects of America were once sacrosanct. A families of those who died in service to the nation. The vision of America penned by Emma Lazarus and carved at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.
We believed in the rule of law, and that justice was blind. The only thing we held more sacred than the flag was our First Amendment right to protest its sanctification.
Truth was once inviolable, non-negotiable. The media’s role in reporting it was a sacred duty.
Even in the closest contests, we never doubted our elections were free and fair. We expected the vanquished would concede, lick their wounds and return in two years or four.
These principles were sacred to us and now, arguably, they are not. But, despite all of this, one American institution still remains sacred: marriage.
This week, Donald Trump’s wife sat with Anderson Cooper to defend her husband. Melania wanted to respond to the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape that captured the Republican nominee at the very least expressing interest in women outside the bonds of marriage. She also addressed the onslaught of sexual assault allegations against her husband that came as a result of the tape’s release.
One section in particular caught me:
I am very strong. People, they don’t really know me. People think and talk about me like ‘Oh, Melania. Poor Melania.’ Don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t feel sorry for me, I can handle everything.
It was strikingly similar to another famous wife defending her politician husband whose fidelity was, let’s say, questioned:
You know, I’m not some little woman standing here by my man like Tammy Wynette.
In each case, supporters saw strength in their woman’s decision to stand by their man, whether it be Melania Trump now, or Hillary Clinton almost 25 years earlier. Opponents saw weakness and labeled each delusional or naïve, Melania for likening her husband to a schoolboy, Hillary for admitting she thought she got the philandering out of Bill’s system.
These similarities are important. Marriage plays a much larger role in how we evaluate politicians than we’ll admit. The life-long commitment a married candidate upholds implies a similar moral steadfastness will govern his political decisions. Consider, there hasn’t been a bachelor elected president since James “Old Buck” Buchanan in 1856.
Today, male politicians who violate the bonds of marriage, either through dalliance or divorce, are considered untrustworthy and harder to elect in some circles. Trump’s multiple marriages were used as attack points by both Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush in the Republican primaries. Similarly, Bill Clinton’s dalliances were used to question his fitness to lead the country, making him the first President to be impeached since Andrew “The Tennessee Tailor” Johnson in 1868.
And yet, plenty of countries elect leaders for reasons divorced from their relationship to marriage. The cavorting of Italy’s Berlusconi made tabloids, but ultimately economic not erotic reasons brought his nine years as Italy’s prime minister to a close. French President Francois Hollande has famously had two affairs but he still leads that country (and oddly enough, Andorra).
The point is that, as the number of Americans who are unmarried continues to rise, why do we evaluate our candidates through a matrimonial lens? If patriotism, compassion, justice, freedom, democracy and the truth are no longer sacred, why is marriage?