Marriage is highly contested in our culture in the twenty-first century. We fight about marriage equality and worry about changing marriage patterns. With a divorce rate around 45%, increasing rates of couples living together, and close connections between poverty and children born to unwed mothers, the challenges presented by changing marriage patterns have important social consequences. Some of the dramatic changes in marriage practice in the last half century include:
- In 1960, 2/3 of all adults in their twenties were married; in 2008, only 26% were
- 65% of all couples live together before getting married
- marriage is much more common among college-educated and economically stable people than among the less-educated and less-affluent
- 90% of young adults think they need to be completely financially independent before marriage
All data from material provided by the Task Force on Marriage. More info here.
In the Episcopal Church, our General Convention 2012 called for a Task Force to study the theology of marriage. As part of its work, it has invited dioceses, parishes, and interested individuals to engage in conversations about marriage. We will be holding such a conversation on July 31 at St. Luke’s here in Madison.
The impetus for the task force came in part from the discussion about same-sex blessings and the trial rite that uses language of blessing, stops short of calling it marriage, yet is being used in many places where gay marriage is legal.
The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is the product of its age and shows some signs of its historical context. With the use of two different rites in the church, and the oft-repeated statement made that the trial rite would be appropriate for use with heterosexual couples, there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding marriage in the church.
For myself, one of the most important issues around marriage is my role as officiant. I am increasingly uncomfortable serving as an agent of the state and as an enabler of the marriage-industrial complex. What might an Episcopal rite, theology, and practice of marriage look like if neither of those factors were involved? It seems to me that the marriage rite is increasingly “divorced” from the practice of marriage. As a church we’re not very successful at doing “all in our power to uphold these two persons in their marriage” as we promise during the rite, and we’re even less successful in help couples who are struggling with their relationships.
A recent study explores the relationship between religious involvement and marriage among young adults:
Nominally religious young adults are in a vulnerable position: they are religious enough to be pushed into early marriage, for instance, but, lacking the social support mediated by an in-the-flesh religious congregation, they don’t reap the benefits of involvement in a religious community. Instead, religion may become a source of conflict.