Divided America: Group marriage?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Divided America
Oneida children produced by eugneics circa 1887

About a decade after Oneida’s founder fled to Canada, some of the “children” produced by the Oneida Community’s policy of eugenics posed for this photograph.

Turn over a piece of fine silver flatware and see if it says “Oneida.” If so, it’s made by the company that was founded years ago by members of a commune that practiced a complex form of group marriage.

In fact, under the direction of founder John Humphrey Noyes, the community’s leadership decided who was best suited to produce children, mixing and matching partners in a process of what scientists already were calling “eugenics” in the mid 19th Century. Noyes finally fled the country in 1879; the Oneida Community ended its experiment in complex marriage and eugenics—and members of the community became stockholders in the ongoing silverware company.

What do Americans think about group marriage today?

OK, I didn’t ask a question about group marriage in my national surveys. I think it’s safe to say that the most Americans today would reject this notion of “marriage.” But that doesn’t mean most Americans endorse the traditional definition of marriage. Values about marriage, gender roles, and family are in flux in contemporary America.

Here are two questions I did ask in my four surveys. To what extent do you agree or disagree with each statement?

Statement 1: A child needs a home with both a father and a mother to grow up happy.

Statement 2: Marriage should be defined solely as between one man and one woman.

Americans are divided on both issues. Just over half of Americans agree that a child needs both a mother and father at home to be happy. But more than a third disagree, with only 11% taking the middle “neutral” position.

I observed a similar pattern for Question 2, though there was more support for the traditional definition of marriage. Since the time of my surveys, opinion has shifted, with a majority of Americans now supporting legalized same-sex marriage.

Just yesterday, a federal judge struck down a ban on same-sex marriage in Oregon. Now, 18 states allow same-sex marriage.

A generational divide seems to be emerging. Younger Americans are much more likely than older Americans to support legalized same-sex marriage. The older view of the culture war pitted cultural progressives against cultural conservatives. Now, it seems that the conflict is organized along generational lines.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with each statement above?

Do you see a generational divide?

Who made your silver flatware?

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