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February 1, 2006
Column #1,275
Missing in The State of the Union
by Michael J. McManus
I wish President Bush had been candid about the State of America's Marital Unions. Here's what he might have said:

Candidly, I must express alarm at the State of America's Marital Unions. Did you know that the marriage rate has plunged 48 percent since 1970?  If we had the same percent of couples getting married now as then, there would be 3.3 million marriages this year instead of 2.2 million.

What's gone wrong?  The number of unwed couples living together soared 10-fold from 540,000 in 1970 to 5.1 million in 2004. That's twice the number who marry in a year. In fact, cohabitation has become the dominant way male-female unions are formed in America - not marriage. This is a shocking moral collapse.

Cohabitation is a double cancer of marriage. First, it diverted tens of millions of adults from getting married at all. There were only 21 million never married Americans in 1970, but 53 million by 2004. That's a 152 percent jump when the population grew only 43 percent.

Second, studies show that those who marry after living together, divorce at a 50 percent
higher rate than those who never cohabited..

Cohabitation is also driving up out-of-wedlock births, from 225,000 in 1960, only 5
percent of births - to 1.4 million in 2003, 35 percent of births.  A couple living together is just as
likely to have a child under 18 as a married couple!

Yet have you ever heard a sermon on cohabitation?  I have not. Surely Scripture is clear. Clergy need to speak out plainly to warn about the dangers of living together because even
parents are unaware of its risks.

I was stunned to learn that government has not even tracked the number of divorces granted since the mid-1990s.  I've told the bureaucracy, `Add up the numbers.' Experts estimate there's been one divorce for every two marriages since 1973 and about a million kids see their parents divorce.

The terror of 9/11 destroyed 3,000 lives, shattering 3,000 families. However, there have probably been 4 million divorces since 9/11/01, shattering 4 million kids.

America must turn these trends around. And it can be done.

Recently, Las Cruces, NM became the 200th city in which clergy signed a "Community Marriage Policy," with an exciting goal. As Las Cruces pastors put it, "Our passion is to radically reduce the divorce rate of those married in faith communities, strengthen existing marriages, restore broken marriages, reconcile breaking marriages and provide support to stepfamilies."

More than 10,000 clergy have signed Community Marriage Policies in 42 states.
(Disclosure: I have helped create these CMPs.)  An independent study of the first 114 CMPs by the Institute for Research and Evaluation in 2004 reported two key results of these clergy covenants:

1.  The divorce rate in CMP cities fell an average of 17.5 percent over seven years -
double the 9.4 percent decline of similar cities without a clergy covenant. They saved           50,000 marriages that would have ended in divorce. Seven cities slashed their divorce rates 48 percent or more such as Austin, Kansas City, KS, Modesto, CA, El Paso and Salem OR.

2.  The cohabitation rate fell 13 percent in CMP cities while it increased by 19 percent in  comparable cities from 1990-2000.  The result was that CMP cities enjoyed a cohabitation rate one-third lower than control cities at the end of the decade.

Thus, it IS possible to reduce divorce and cohabitation rates.  Marriage rates are also rising.  Evansville, IN had 1,100 marriages every year until 2004 when 1,400 couples married.

At the heart of these covenants is the training of couples in healthy marriages to mentor other couples. Some prepare couples for marriage by giving a premarital inventory to help them assess strengths and areas for growth, and teach skills to resolve conflict. In one church 288 couples were prepared for marriage over a decade, 53 of whom decided NOT to marry. But of
those who married there have been only 7 divorces since 1992.

That's a 97 percent success rate. That's marriage insurance!

Other mentor couples whose marriages were once in crisis are trained to mentor those in current crisis, saving four out of five of them.  Couples with stepchildren who usually divorce at a 70 percent rate, attend Stepfamily Support Groups saving 80 percent of marriages.

Therefore, I would like to call upon America's houses of worship to implement these strategies, to achieve three great national goals over the next decade to rebuild marriage, the foundation of our society:

    1.  Slash America's divorce and cohabitation rates by 50 percent by 2015.

    2.  Increase the marriage rate by one-third by 2015.

    3.  Slash out-of-wedlock births in half by 2015.

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