November 29, 2010

In support of marriage

By Deacon Patrick Moynihan *
Two weeks ago, I attended the marriage of two thirty-something friends. It was a beautiful wedding. So beautiful, I even cried. It was truly a special occasion. What I did not realize then was that it was also a rare occasion—or at least rarer than it has ever been.

Maybe I have had my head in the sand, but until I read this week’s TIME report on marriage, I had no idea that the institution was in such a severe decline in the US. Shocked, I went to the bar—the Google bar. I found several sources that corroborate the report. Amazingly, we are less married today than we have ever been in our nation’s history!

In fact, if the trend continues unchecked, very soon more adult women will be unmarried than married. Obviously, men will not be far behind. The most precipitous drop has been among young adults, who are a nearly a third less likely to be married than were their parents at the same age.

Ironically, TIME reports that we continue to hold marriage in high esteem even as we participate in it less. Somehow we know marriage is good for us, for children and for society, but it is less and less what we want for ourselves. I have to say, since I grew up having marriage as a goal for myself, it is a bit odd to live in a world where mounting majority of people no longer want to get married, even though they readily admit that they are glad that their parents did.

Should this be a concern? After all, lots of social values and traditions end this way—highly regarded by all, practiced by a few. For instance, we are also less churched today and the world has not come to an end. We belong to fewer civic organizations and life goes on. But, given the importance of marriage to the stability of society, the economy and child rearing, this institution is likely to go out with a bang, not a whimper.
We should be afraid, very afraid. Unfortunately, in a wealthy, advanced society, it is easy to feel we can afford anything, even the sacrifice of something very important to our social structure. After all, we are a modern people; what do we need with the restrictive bonds of the past? We stopped riding horses and bought cars and the world did not end.  

Yet, we know that having nearly half our country’s children born to unmarried mothers is going to hurt them and us. The decline in marriage has seen a rise in many other social issues: teen pregnancy, high school dropouts, gang participation, and the widening of the economic gap in society.

We like to blame Wall Street and the public education system for our societal and economic woes, but marriage is a Main Street and domestic issue. Maybe our resistance or inability to make the most fundamental bond of society work is the real problem.

The family unit is the most basic building block of society. A house made up of individuals from divided or never-unified families will not stand. Every economic, academic and psychological statistic supports the fact that marriage is beneficial to society. It is so obvious that even our otherwise consensus-challenged politicians agree that the institution should be encouraged with a tax-break.

I currently work and live in a country were marriage, especially among the poor, is almost nonexistent. You can Google all day and you will not find many formal statistics on marriage in Haiti, but I can assure you it is not at all common. In our immediate neighborhood, I know of only one household in which all the children are from the same two parents and the parents are formally married. There is no way to tell for sure, but I am willing to bet that Haiti has the lowest marriage rate in the Western Hemisphere.

Is it a coincidence that Haiti is also the poorest country in our hemisphere?

Sure, we have a lot going for us in the US that Haiti does not, like natural resources and a strong industrial and technology sector; however, the historic ubiquity of marriage may be more important to our economic and social success than all of these other factors.

I have been praying for my own marriage and marriage in Haiti for a while; I have now added the United States to the list.
Deacon Patrick Moynihan graduated Culver Military Academy in 1983, from Brown University with BA in Sanskrit and Classics in 1987, and from Providence College with an MA in Religious Studies [Theology] in 1999.

He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.

Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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