Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Church's Role in Current Marriage Trends

In recent months, U.S. Bishops in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and the District of Columbia have been campaigning to keep traditional definition of marriage- between a man and a woman –as the only legally binding definition. For instance, the Massachusetts Catholic Conference stated in the Boston Herald News in late October that certain “moral and social issues are fundamentally important, since human rights are at stake and must be protected to help democracy to flourish in a way that benefits every citizen.” The statement went on to read: “These include the defense of the sanctity of life, the family based on marriage between a man and a woman…” The archbishop of the Twin Cities, Archbishop John Nienstedt, also assertively campaigned for the dignity of marriage by mailing a DVD (defending marriage as between one man and one woman) to 800,000 Catholics in the state of Minnesota.

There is a reason behind this refreshingly bold and unapologetic approach by many U.S. Bishops. And the reason is that the institution of marriage is being challenged on two fronts: Same-sex marriage, especially among the younger generations, has become widely accepted. Moreover, cohabitation among young adults is seen, with ever increasing frequency, as a viable alternative to marriage. Indeed, yesterday’s problem was divorce, but today’s problem is incentivizing couples to get married. If marriage, as opposed to cohabitation, requires more sacrifice and commitment, then why get married?

Indeed, for the first time in America's history a majority of young adults from ages 25 to 34are choosing not to get married. Cohabitation rates, especially among the lower classes, have risen sharply in recent years. The data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey and 2010 Current Population Survey confirms this. This is what they found:

• Between 2000 and 2009, the share of young adults ages 25 to 34 who are married dropped 10 percentage points, from 55 percent to 45 percent.
• Among the total population ages 18 and older, the proportion married dropped from 57 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2009.
• In 2008, non-marital births accounted for 41 percent of all births in the United States; although roughly half of these non-marital births are to cohabiting couples.

As one analyst said, "This is the lowest percentage recorded since information on marital status was first collected by the U.S. Census Bureau more than 100 years ago." The question Catholics should ask is: What relationship does the Catholic Church have with regard to these marriage trends? And how can she reverse it?

No doubt, the Catholic Church has the highest doctrinal standards with regard to marriage. Her teachings on the indissolubility of marriage and contraception are just a few of the doctrines which are countercultural; that is, doctrines considered to be “too difficult” or “unrealistic” by the majority of Americans. However, the pastoral practices of the Church in these last five decades- especially with regard to marriage preparation –have not been countercultural at all; far from it, they have been quite accommodating. And here lies the problem.

More on the next blog