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Society Shouldn't Undermine Marriage

Raymond J. Keating

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June 25, 2007

Let's talk marriage. To start, consider two anecdotes.

First, before tying the knot, my wife and I attended pre-marriage classes at our church. We were told that our marriage was not just personal, but had an impact on others. As an immature, early-20-something at the time, I rolled my eyes. But I later learned, especially once children came along, that my own and other marriages affect many people. Whether we like it or not, decisions on staying married or divorcing are not completely private matters.

Second, there are husbands who leave their wives and children for other women, but are still considered great dads. Can one be a good father after dumping the mother of his children for someone perceived as more interesting or sexier? What is this father teaching his children about responsibility, commitment and love? (Of course, it also could be a wife dumping husband and kids.)

Given the prevalence of divorce, many people avoid talking about such issues. They might not like the risks and realities of their choices.

The 2006 "State of Our Unions" report from the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University noted that the divorce rate almost doubled from 9.2 divorces per 1,000 women in 1960 to 17.9 in 2004. It was predicted: "For the average couple marrying for the first time in recent years, the lifetime probability of divorce or separation remains between 40 and 50 percent."

What's the big deal? Well, there are consequences.

In congressional testimony in 2004, Barbara Defoe Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project, summed up: "Researchers now agree that, except in cases of high and unremitting parental conflict, children who grow up in households with their married mother and father do better on a wide range of economic, social, educational and emotional measures than do children in other kinds of family arrangements."

She also noted the economic, health, emotional and spiritual benefits of marriage for men and women. And society reaps rewards from stable marriages, such as in child-rearing, wealth creation and generation of social capital through "mutual trust, dependability, commitment, shared values and obligation."

Marriage, in fact, is more than just a personal relationship. Walking away from one's family is not being a good parent. Given these realities, what are politicians up to in Albany? During the session that ended last week, some worked to further undermine marriage.

For example, Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the Democrat-led Assembly chose to redefine "marriage" to fit the demands of gay activists. Spitzer called for the legalization of "gay marriage," and the Assembly agreed by an 85-61 margin.

The Assembly earlier this month voted 88-53 to make marriages easier to dispose of by shortening the time separated spouses would have to wait for a divorce from one year to three months. Fortunately, the Republican-led State Senate did not vote on either bill.

Marriage cannot be remade to fit special-interest political demands or made disposable without negative fallout. The State Catholic Conference, which opposed each measure, correctly pointed out:

"Throughout recorded history, every civilized society has recognized marriage as the unique relationship that is the very foundation for social stability."

Arkansas, Arizona and Louisiana have passed covenant-marriage legislation. The Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, says that in a covenant marriage, couples make "a more substantial legal commitment in marriage," including pre-marriage counseling with a clergy member or other professional, an obligation to take steps to preserve marriage during difficulties and "somewhat restricted grounds for legal separation." That's a far different emphasis from some New York politicians playing fast and loose with marriage.

Marriage matters. Our elected officials should be reinforcing, not undermining, this foundational unit of society.

Read the entire article on the Newsday website (new window will open). Reprinted with permission of the author.

Posted: 03-Jul-07



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