Williams Responds to Complaints About Marriage Commentary

After noting in his newscast that marriage is "under attack," Brian Williams has issued a statement of clarification on his blog:

I was the recipient today of several emails from well-intentioned people, telling me I was being attacked in parts of the blogosphere for something I wrote and said on the air in last night's broadcast. It was a closing piece about Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip celebrating their 60th anniversary. I noted this accomplishment, especially in this era when, as I put it, marriage seems "under attack" as an institution. My meaning? Our national divorce rate, which is currently somewhere between 40 and 50 percent. Others took it upon themselves to decide that I was somehow attacking gay marriage. The simple fact is that nothing could have been further from my mind, as many others easily understood. In fact, one comment shared with me today came from a respected member of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, who said, "It seemed to me he was talking about the sky-high heterosexual divorce rates. Marriage IS under attack -- by straight people. It had nothing to do with the gay marriage movement."
First of all, Williams did not say that marriage seems under attack. He said it is under attack. When a news anchor states something as fact, as opposed to a common impression, it's not a semantic difference—and it's incredibly disingenuous of Williams to pretend otherwise. I find it highly ironic that even as Williams sniffs derisively at "parts of the blogosphere" who had the temerity to question a Real News Man, he simultaneously shrugs off the responsibility of the unassailable status to which he implicitly lays claim.

But the familiar invocation of haughty, duty-free entitlements of the media is the least of his problems.

It's incredibly careless to say that marriage is under attack, without specifying one's meaning, and presume that everyone will intuitively understand that to mean "divorce," particularly given that it isn't the prevention of divorce about which a constitutional amendment has been repeatedly introduced. It isn't divorcees who have been routinely, publicly accused of undermining the sanctity of marriage. Banning divorce hasn't been put on the ballot in more than a dozen states in the past two elections.

"Marriage is under attack" is such a recognizable dog whistle to opponents of same-sex marriage that it's practically synonymous with "the radical gay agenda." Is Brian Williams, anchor of the NBC Nightly News (and regular Rush Limbaugh listener), seriously trying to tell me that he doesn't know that? If so, he's manifestly unfit for his job, because that's a truly stunning lack of awareness about one of the most important news stories in American politics and culture in the last decade.

That he seems to be equally ignorant about the divorce rate doesn't bode well for him, either: As of 2005, the US divorce rate is at its lowest point since 1970. Americans are getting married at a lower rate, but also getting divorced at a lower rate, suggesting those who do get married are forming better unions. If the institution of marriage is taking a hit in sheer numbers, it's to the benefit of the people who get married.

Now, I obviously have no idea who the "respected member of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association" is whose commentary Williams reports via the grapevine, but s/he's right that "Marriage IS under attack—by straight people," and wrong to attribute it to their "sky-high heterosexual divorce rates." The straight people attacking marriage are the ones who want to limit it, who construe its definition so rigidly that it must be restricted to mixed-sex couples lest their own government-recognized, 1,138 rights-conferring, very, very mega-awesome oh-so-precious super-special relationships lose the shimmering, golden glow that only denying equality to same-sex couples conveys upon their gloriously gilded unions. It's a Very Special Right, and they don't want anyone to take it away from them—especially those dastardly queers and their constant crusade for special rights.

But a straight-faced suggestion that people who get divorced are attacking marriage is, well, bullshit. (To be fair, I would guess the NLGJA member was probably being rather facetious with that line, so this commentary is directed more at Williams, who is using it seriously in his own defense.) Divorce isn't a problem. It is, in fact, often the only solution to problems that really do undermine marriage—unhappiness, incompatibility, lovelessness, loneliness, betrayal, abuse, violence, and the million other reasons people get divorced.

My ex and I got married young—right out of college—and, after a couple years, we called it quits, because we were both miserable. It was about the most amicable divorce possible; we used the same divorce attorney, split everything right down the middle, and still lived in the same flat as roommates for months afterward. When he met Mr. Shakes, his comment was: "He's a good guy—and he loves you in way I never could." I hear he's now happily living with a woman to whom he's well-suited, and no doubt loves him in a way I never could. What would the point have been of our slogging through a lifetime in a crap marriage, even if we could have?

There would have been even less point if our marriage had been plagued by domestic violence, serial philandering, lies and other betrayals of trust. And that doesn't even begin to touch horrendous family situations like spousal rape or the sexual assault or physical/emotional abuse of children, in which cases only an absolute sadist would recommend against divorce.

A marriage simply isn't worth protecting if it's protected at the expense of the people within. Ditto for marriage as "an institution." The idea that divorce is an attack on marriage only makes sense if one assumes either there are happily married people being forced to divorce, or that unhappily married people should have no option but to stay that way for the sake of an institution that is better served by the quality of its participants than the quantity, anyway.

If Williams is so concerned about marriages being undermined, then he could start by looking at our culture's obscene fascination with marriage in general, so droolingly obsessive and wantonly consumptive as to render marriage all but meaningless—public courtships, reality show matchmaking, elaborate weddings, the slobbering desperation for unwed couples (cough Brangelina cough) to walk down the aisle, scenes from inside celebrity marriages, etc. etc. etc.—but, given that his original piece was honoring the 60th anniversary of a royal couple whose family's courtships, (arranged and often loveless) marriages, public affairs, divorces, and various sexual scandals continue to preoccupy America despite their rule in another country entirely, I sincerely doubt that he genuinely cares much about the so-called sanctity of marriage, anyway.

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