The unmarried are in a global revolution, largely unheralded by our media, that has — without fanfare but with unerring grace and dignity — moved most of the world's developed countries to adopt laws giving them broad rights and protection. It is a sad irony that America, known for its pioneering spirit and respect for human rights, is still woefully behind the curve in granting recognition to the population on the vanguard of a historic population shift. It's an even greater irony that those men and women, having achieved majority status, for the most part continue to remain outside the laws of this land that was founded on righteous uprising.
France is one example of a country that has already enacted protective laws for its unmarried population. There, civil solidarity pacts allow same- and opposite-sex couples to join lives outside of marriage. These pacts extend rights in areas of social security, inheritance, taxation and next-of-kin notification. Many other countries in Europe have enacted laws recognizing unmarried couples and granting legal protection. Even China, an unlikely nation to accommodate changing trends in its population, shows clear signs of later marriage and an increasing shift to singlehood. The government's response? More relaxed marriage laws. And the contagion continues to evolve. Growing youth movements worldwide are relentlessly prodding their governments for legal recognition.
But this is no clarion call for free love. The truth is that singleness in no way equates with amorality. The basic conservatism inherent in most of us remains when marriage bonds are severed. My nationally representative survey proved this conclusively, best illustrated by the response to its final query: "Ideally, which would you prefer, one love for a lifetime or one at each stage of your emotional development?" A resounding majority of respondents (87 percent) preferred one lifetime love. Even though many of their unions had been attenuated by death or divorce, the monogamous instinct prevailed. A death blow to the "swinging single" fiction, for sure, and a resounding affirmation of values in the unmarried community.
Morality may affirm the character of the unmarried millions bending the world in their direction, but it is still not at the heart of their revolution. No, this trend, while focused on individuality, is much bigger than any one person. Hundreds of law-abiding, decent people are shedding the stifling roles and expectations of marriage as vestigial structures. Rejecting the formality of marriage isn't for all of us, of course, but it does appear to be the wave of the future. And like any force of nature, it merits our respect.
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