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August 19, 2015
Column #1,773
Let's Restore Traditional Marriage
By Mike McManus

Too much attention has been given to same-sex marriage. While the Supreme Court has mandated it in every state, it should be noted that traditional marriage – the union of one man and one woman – was a constitutional amendment in 33 states, voted for by 50 million people.

Justice Scalia was correct in calling the 5-4 decision a "threat to democracy" because it robbed citizens "of the freedom to govern themselves."

But the gays are right about one thing. Traditional marriage is not faring well. Marriage rates have plunged 57% since 1970. Why? Cohabitation has soared 18-fold to 7.9 million couples living together in 2014. While 59% of those who marry are living together, that's only 1.3 million. What happened to the other 6.6 million couples? They broke up. And cohabitants who married are more likely to divorce.

Divorces have tripled since 1960, rising to 1.15 million in 2013. Since 1975 there has been one divorce for every two marriages. Finally, unwed births have soared 8-fold to 40%.

What can be done? My wife and I have pioneered some answers.

First, we trained couples in healthy marriages – who can be found in every church – to be Mentor Couples helping engaged couples prepare for a lifelong marriage.

The engaged take a "premarital inventory," asking them to react to 150 statements like these:

  • Sometimes I wish my partner were more careful about spending money.
  • When we are having a problem, my partner refuses to talk about it.

The inventory is taken online with the results sent to Mentors who can help them talk through their unique issues. Mentors can also teach skills to resolve conflict respectfully. The major reason couples divorce is they don't know how to calmly work through differences.

Secondly, some Mentor Couples whose own marriages were once in crisis, can help those in current crisis. Every church has couples who have survived adultery. If a "back-from-the-brink" couple met with a couple in crisis over infidelity, they could say, "This what we did to restore trust." That's exactly what the other couple needs to hear.

However, most pastors send couples in crisis to a Christian counselor. A major Louisiana study reported 300 such couples "are substantially more likely to divorce than couples who forego this option….Marital counseling is associated with at least three times higher odds of separation and divorce," It concluded.

Another major cause of divorce for those who remarry is stepchildren. "I don't want a new mom," says a child who can drive her right out of that marriage. Stepfamilies divorce at a 70% rate. However, Roswell United Methodist Church near Atlanta creatted an answer called the "Stepfamily Support Group." Stepparents go every other week and learn from each other how to make these marriages work. In 16 years 80% of Roswell stepfamilies saved their marriage.

However, even if all these strategies are put in place, America's divorce rate would still be too high. It's triple that of Britain or France, where only 8% divorce in five years vs. 23% in the U.S. Why? If a British wife wants a divorce but her husband does not, they have to wait 5 years for the divorce, six years in France. Five or six years is a lot of time for couples to reconcile.

By contrast, half of our states have a ZERO waiting period. Those states are pushing people to divorce. Pennsylvania and Illinois come closest to the British model. If a divorce is contested by one spouse, couples must wait two years to be divorced. Many find ways to reconcile and those states have two of the lowest divorce rates – nearly half that of 11 Hot Head States with zero waiting: OK, TN, WV, AL, FL, MS, KY, ID, WY, AR and NV.

Therefore, I propose that there be at least a one-year period after a couple has filed for divorce, before it is granted – and two years, if the divorce is contested or if they have children.

Finally, it makes no sense to pay cohabiting couples to have children. Every unwed mother who gives birth gets about $25,000 of goodies from "Uncle Sugar," as Gov. Huckabee puts it: Medicaid, welfare, food stamps, etc. That makes sense for a mother bringing up a child alone – but not for a mom living with a partner, who has the benefit of his income as if married.

Let's stop those subsidies – unless the couple decides to marry. If they marry let's continue benefits for two years, then taper them off. Married couples earn $42,000 more than cohabiting couples, so in time no subsidies are needed.

Let's restore traditional marriage in America.

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