July 1, 2000
(Second in a series of three columns on marriage)
A NEW "MARRIAGE MOVEMENT"
DENVER - A new ''marriage movement'' surfaced
in America last week.
Along with 100 religious, academic, political
and civic leaders, I signed ''The Marriage Movement: a Statement of
Principles.'' What follows are excerpts of our 23-page statement edited
by Maggie Gallagher of the Institute for American Values.
''We come together because the divorce
revolution has failed. When marriages fail, children suffer. For many
the suffering continues for years. For some it never ends. Nor has the
divorce revolution reliably delivered on its promise to adults of
greater personal happiness. Remarriages are no happier than first
marriages, and are even more divorce-prone. Despite the tripling of
divorces since 1960, the percent of persons in intact and happy
marriages has declined.
''We come together because the
unwed-childbearing revolution has failed. It has not led to greater
equality for women, but to the feminization of parenting and poverty.
''Marriage is a universal human institution,
the way in which every known society conspires to obtain for each child
the love, attention and resources of a mother and father.
''We come together to pledge that in this
decade we will turn the tide on marriage, reducing divorce and unmarried
''Is renewing a marriage culture a reasonable
goal? We think so. High rates of divorce and unwed childbearing, some
distinguished voices tell us, are irreversible trends. We respectfully
but firmly disagree. The history of American progress is the history of
confronting entrenched social problems once considered inevitable.
Slavery, racism, poverty, pollution, drunk driving, sexism, tobacco use
- in each case, Americans proved that when a social practice, big or
small is wrong, or destructive, the correct response is not fatalistic
acceptance, but action.
''Strengthening marriage is a legitimate
public goal. It protects the well-being of children. Divorce and unwed
parenting generate large taxpayer costs. Marriage is a unique generator
of social and human capital, as important as education in building
wealth. Married adults live longer, healthier, happier and more affluent
lives than adults who don't marry or stay married.
''A marriage movement is visibly emerging; a
diverse and growing group of leaders are organizing new initiatives to
strengthen marriage. The Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples
Education (founded by Diane Sollee), brought together 600 leaders for a
Smart Marriages conference in 1997, grew to 1,200 in 1999 and created a
clearinghouse for the media plus activists in religious, scholarly and
public policy sectors'' (http://www.smartmarriages.com).
The paper also cited the ''growth of Marriage
Savers,'' a ministry begun by my wife and me ''that has helped 5,500
clergy in 125 cities organize Community Marriage Policies and Covenants.
For these programs, clergy agree to require engaged couples to undergo
four months of marriage preparation, encourage marriage enrichment and
intervention programs such as Marriage Encounter, Family Life or
Retrouvaille, create stepfamily support groups, and train lay mentor
couples to help engaged couples, newlyweds and troubled marriages.''
''In 1998, Florida became the first state to
mandate marriage and relationship skills in all public and private high
schools. In 1997, Louisiana became the first state, and in 1998, Arizona
the second, to pass covenant marriage laws, which give couples the
option of avoiding no-fault divorce laws, or unilateral divorce,
responsible for 17 percent of the overall increase of divorce.
''In 1999, governors in two states - Arkansas
and Oklahoma - publicly made 30 to 50 percent reductions in the divorce
rate an important goal of their administrations. Oklahoma Gov. Frank
Keating announced an innovative $10 million marriage initiative,
financed by using 10 percent of the state's unspent welfare funds. It
will organize Community Marriage Covenants, a statewide service delivery
system for marriage skills training and a public information
''We offer these concrete suggestions as
''To married couples: If your marriage has recovered from
serious troubles, consider volunteering at (or starting) a marriage
mentoring program at your local church or synagogue to help turn around
''To parents: Make raising children who succeed in marriage at
least as important a goal as raising children who succeed in careers.
Parents who want their children to marry before having children and who
prefer marriage to cohabitation, should explicitly communicate this
''To clergy: Develop lay marriage mentoring ministries to help
engaged, newlywed and troubled couples. Lay mentor couples can play a
role that no professional can. Alcoholics Anonymous is...more successful
than highly trained professionals in getting alcoholics sober, because
people who have been there can provide daily support, skills, tips, and
''To governments: Promote marriage as an explicit goal of
domestic policy. Use unspent welfare (TANF) funds to fund marriage
supportive activities; reconsider no-fault divorce laws and give legal
weight to marriage vows: 18 months for a contested divorces to allow
''We seek nothing less than to rebuild the shattered dream of
lasting love and to pass on a healthier, happier and more successful
marriage culture to the next generation. Toward this end, we pledge our
time, our resources and our intellectual and moral energy.''
For a copy, or to join the list of
Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.