Religious leaders should promote marriage for all

A new survey out this week from the National Marriage Project shows that marriage is an institution in decline in … Continued

A new survey out this week from the National Marriage Project shows that marriage is an institution in decline in many parts of American society. This “retreat from marriage in Middle America” will have wide-ranging social and economic consequences, say the survey’s authors.

Another recent study of marriage, administered by the Pew Research Center, showed that nearly 40% of Americans believe marriage is becoming ‘obsolete.’


What is marriage? Is it a civil union or is it a religious institution? How do you define it? Is there a marriage crisis in America today?

Last weekend, at a dinner party of mostly ministers, we regaled each other with stories of wedding mishaps. All ministers have had them. My own personal favorite was the three year old flower girl who so didn’t want to be in a dress that, once free of her parents’ prodding, proceeded to undress down to her underwear as she walked down the aisle. But, when we finished laughing at the foibles, we all agreed that performing marriage ceremonies for couples is one of the blessings of our ministerial vocations.

Rather than seeing marriage as obsolete, I see it as changing and evolving, both as a religious and a civil institution. My reading of the Pew Report and the National Marriage Report is not that we have a marriage problem, but rather that unemployment, educational and economic deprivation is causing both the “moderately educated middle” and the poor to delay and/or struggle in married life. In contrast to the headlines, the Pew Report found that more than two thirds of Americans are optimistic about marriage, and that the definition of family is expanding.

From a religious perspective, marriage is about entering into a holy covenant and making a commitment with another person to share life’s joys and sorrows. From a civic perspective, it is about offering more than 1,100 benefits and protections to both partners. From both a religious and civic perspective, marriage is valued because it creates stable committed relationships; provides a means to share economic resources; and nurtures the individual, the couple, and children. We know and affirm that good marriages are based on responsibility, justice, and love.

The irony is that many of the organizations committed to promoting marriage seek to exclude same sex couples from these benefits. In the past, marriage was primarily about property and procreation, while today according to the Pew Report most believe it should be based on love, commitment and companionship. In the past, neither the state nor most religions recognized divorce, remarriage, or interracial marriage, although today, it’s hard for young people to believe that those restrictions could ever have existed. Today, we are beginning to embrace another change, the freedom of same sex couples to marry.

Religious and civic leaders should promote and support marriage without restrictions based on the biological sex, procreative potential, or sexual orientation of the partners. We indeed should be alarmed that economic injustices in our society mean that many do not have the supports to enter into and build strong marriages. Surely we can understand that whether it’s economics, prejudice, or homophobia, as people of faith we should work for justice for all who seek to express their love in the commitment of civic, and if desired religious, marriage. Our commitment must be for legal and relational justice for all.

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  • lepidopteryx

    David, I would love it if those who wish to legally marry were allowed to do so, regardless of number or gender, and were required to get the signature of a judge on the necessary paperwork.

  • GabrielRockman

    David6 – I don’t think you’ve even read the first amendment.In fact, your very last statement makes it very clear that you have not read the first amendment.

  • amelia45

    Several decades ago headlines declared: “God is Dead”. Now we have mega churches and our country is in the throes of a religious ferver that makes me think of Elmer Gantry has been reborn a million times over. That headline was wrong and so is the assumed demise of civil or religious marriage. I don’t have any proof. I just think the economic times are bad, they have been bad for the lower and middle class for quite a while, and the outcome is fewer young people marry or they delay marriage. Economic opportunity creates the opportunity to marry; economic decline takes that away.As for ministers, priests, rabbis, or imans having the ability to certify a legal right, I don’t really have a problem with it, s Davd seems to in the 12:44 comment. My only problem is in limiting what is permitted in the civil world to what is permitted in the religious world – that is, religious opposition to gay marriage or even multiple wives or husbands. There is nothing to show harm is done to the civil world by gay marriages. We are legislating on the religious beliefs that gay marriage is a sin, rather than any observation that a gay marriage actually causes harm to the individuals involved, the children they may raise, or society at large. Sinful and legal are two different things. Sometimes they overlap, but not always. Thank God everything some religion considers a sin is not illegal. What a world that would be!

  • SaraKateB

    Religious marriage and civil marriage are two different things. Certainly, in many instances they can go hand in hand – i.e. having a religious ceremony to celebrate a civil marriage, as so many people do – but they are NOT the same. If certain religious denominations refuse to accept or perform gay marriages, it ought to have no bearing on whether the government sanctions & accepts them. It is the government’s duty to treat all individuals equally – “life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness,” & all that jazz! Religious views should have no impact on civil marriage – which should be legal for all couples, gay or straight.That said, I balk at your line “We indeed should be alarmed that economic injustices in our society mean that many do not have the supports to enter into and build strong marriages.” We should also be alarmed at the societal economic injustices that mean many ONLY have the means to support themselves IF they marry – I’m thinking health insurance, in particular, though there are a number of others. Benefits granted to spouses, nearly impossible to attain on one’s own.

  • david6

    Those organizations don’t care about marriage per se. The largest one forbids all of its leaders from being married. Others have long histories of bigotry. They want to control marriage rather than let individuals make their own decisions. They want to tell the state what to do, despite the First Amendment. This is about their ability to wield power. Maybe the first thing we can do is take away the special rights of preachers to be involved in marriage formalities.

  • gladerunner

    twmatthews:Not exactly. Licensed ministers are on the list of people that are allowed to sign a marriage license. The marriage is only actually ‘legal’ once that license is filed with the state. The license does not require a minister to sign it, it actually requires no ceremony at all. In most places a mere JoP, judge, captain of a ship at sea, et al. can sign off on it.

  • david6

    GabrielRockman -How does giving clergy special rights in marriage formalities not violate the First Amendment?Anyone should be able to officiate at the ceremony if those being married want one. There’s no value in giving preachers a special right.

  • GabrielRockman

    David6 – The government cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion. Taking away the rights of preachers to be involved in marriage formalities interferes with the free exercise of religion.

  • twmatthews

    Gabrielrockman: The government cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion. Taking away the rights of preachers to be involved in marriage formalities interferes with the free exercise of religion.Well, in fact the government can and does limit the free exercise of religion. American law makes it illegal for a husband to have multiple wives. That legality contradicted Mormon religious practices at the time. And in the same way, if your particular religious practice violates a law — say slaughtering and consuming an animal — then it is not allowed.The point that David6 was making is that we have granted special rights to ministers. We’ve concluded that they are allowed to conduct a marriage ceremony and at the conclusion of that ceremony these two people are legally married. I agree with David in that we should look closely at continuing this practice. Either ministers, priests and rabbis should oversee strictly ceremonial services or we should allow any adult to perform such ceremonies because granting special rights to religious leaders is implicitly advocating for religion.

  • SusanKatzMiller

    Thank you for pointing out that “the organizations committed to promoting marriage seek to exclude same sex couples.” To be very specific, the “Institute for American Values” which co-sponsored the report in question is not some objective research institution but has been politically active in opposing same-sex marriage.I became aware of this when the Washington Post published a opinion piece by an affiliate of the IAV, who twisted and mischaracterized research in an attempt to convince readers that interfaith marriage is doomed to failure. The Washington Post did not even mention the author’s paid affiliation when they published the piece. Those of us in successful interfaith marriages would like to join with those of us in successful same-sex marriages to oppose the publication of “research” and opinions published without full disclosure as to the funding sources and the agenda of those funding sources.Susan Katz Miller

  • thebump

    Marriage means husband and wife. By definition it is the union of the two sexes. There is no such thing as so-called “same sex marriage”. Such a thing would be a logical nullity and absurdity.