Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Straights Jumping Off The Traditional Marriage Boat

Last year in France approximately 140,000 couples entered into civil unions. 92 percent of these couple were straight. When France legalized civil unions in 1999 there were 6000 civil unions and the majority of these were gay. My how things change.

The reason most observers give for these figures is that civil unions are easier to dissolve than France's civil marriages. All marriages and civil unions are state enacted in France. There is no legally recognized religious marriage ceremony.

When France enacted it's civil union legislation the wording was gender neutral. Legislators felt wording the legislation identifying it as for gays only would not pass European Union mandates on discrimination. However, it was precisely to answer gay marriage critics, like the Roman Catholic Church, that the civil union legislation was passed in the first place. Is this an instance where protecting marriage for heterosexuals has resulted in undermining heterosexual marriage? Sure looks like it to me.

This is a classic case of why separate but equal doesn't work to protect heterosexual marriage. As long as civil unions are perceived as being easier to void, they will also appeal to heterosexuals.

I don't know that we're asking the right questions or fighting the right battles. The real question should be 'why don't relationships of any sort, last any more?' Traditionalists will say it's because we have diluted marriage. But it may be that traditional marriages used to last longer because it was a legal hammer to keep lousy relationships in place. Notice I didn't say functional, because many of these long lasting marriages were not functional relationships.

What if the increase in divorce is not only a reflection of a more fluid society but also a reflection of just how many dysfunctional marriages were kept solvent through restrictive divorce laws? If the that's the case, then for the good of a lot of children, we may not want to revisit the past. Forcing two people to maintain a relationship which has become a perpetual hell is not good for anyone.

I've written before that I really believe the issue should be about parenting, not orientation. If we care primarily about the children, and that's why marriage is supposed to exist, then we should actually care about the children and make sure that the relationship producing those children will take care of those obligations no matter the legal status of the relationship itself.

Focusing on the evils of gay marriage does absolutely nothing to ensure that heterosexuals will parent their children. Why focus on supposed non creative relationships if you are all about children. It seems to me that churches should be focusing on issues which contribute to the failure of heterosexual marriage and the children who are caught in the middle of the divorces.

If the statistics about civil unions in France teach us anything it's that the Church's myopic focus on gay marriage has missed the boat entirely. The real boat is that heterosexuals are rejecting traditional marriage, and the real questions should center around why this is happening and what can we do for the children. We may find out that it's much better for traditional heterosexual marriage if gays are allowed into the same traditional boat. Then we might be able to blow away all the smoke and mirrors to finally ask if there might be something fundamentally wrong with the boat.


  1. Colleen:

    Thank you for this post. You have powerfully identified the BIG problem with the catholic church (ie vatican) approach to everything ... condemnation of the result and those that are experiencing the result but totally ignoring the cause.

    Addressing the cause is pastoral, condemning the result is legalistic. Pastoral care as we know is a quality that is sadly not present within the Magisterial Authority. Legalistic and judgmental are the trademarks of the current vatican administration. This is the primary reason the vatican fails in all of its endeavors.

    The unwillingness of the vatican to even consider that their approach might be in error, that their approach could in actuality be a source, perhaps even THE source of the problem, is the assurance of the continued failure of every vatican endeavor. It is also how we can know with certainity that the vatican will never be able (in its current mindset) anything but an empty shell, a dry hollow bone of what christianity and catholicism is intended to be.

  2. It's really true, Colleen, that people today are very wary about getting married. There are just too many horror stories. Every state has different laws. Over the summer I met several couples at a party who have been together for years and years and one of them was married before and this time around said no way. I discussed this with some of the women and told them about a woman who lived across the street from my parents who was married but was never on the deed to the house. When her spouse died the children of her deceased spouse kicked her out of the house. Marriage didn't seem to do her any good. The women I spoke to are smart; they own their own property. People are finding creative ways to work around laws that just don't seem to fit anymore.

    It's also true that "The real question should be 'why don't relationships of any sort, last any more?' I have to add here that half of first marriages last. Half of first marriages don't last. I'm not sure what the stats are for people who have remarried, but hopefully that marriage succeeds at a better rate than the first. They probably don't last because of a host of reasons that pull them apart into other directions. There are global relationships now where one spouse might have a job in another state and not be around long enough to sustain the relationship. So many reasons. No time to list them all. Each situation is truly unique.

    Word is rogic. People have rogic and reason.

  3. i have often thought on the same line when comparing marriage rates of the past and present. I a think couple issues kept women of the era my Mother and Grandmothers in relationships.#1 Financial, so few women were able to be gainfully employed. #2 Social and religious conditioning. Like you i do not think the marriage rates has anything to do with the quality of the marriage.
    Also, it has been a few years since i heard the studies, but i read a breakdown of divorce and denominations.
    The most divorces where the Southern Baptist, and Pentecostals where next, and next was Catholics, then the best rate where the Anglicans. And the rate for non-religious couple was between the Catholics and the Anglicans.

    So when i hear the Fundamentalist in my speak of how Gays are destroying the Family, i always suggest if they want to save the Family they need to start with with their own.

    I really like this statement Colleen:

    "Addressing the cause is pastoral, condemning the result is legalistic." How True! That sentence if truly embraced would be the salve for all our relgions and the world.

  4. oops! outside of the typo word insertion errors i just made, realized i attributed Col55 quotes to Colleen. . .Sorry!

  5. River, not a problem. It is interesting that you are not the first and probably will not be the last one to confuse us. I dont know why but I consider it to be a complement and certainly hope Colleen feels the same way.


  6. That's OK River, I would have corrected it for you.

    This marriage thing really does bug me, and I don't mean the gay marriage thing. My daughter's generation really has a different attitude towards stable relationships and I'm not sure why.

    Well, it could be my generation and our failures, but I think it's more than that. That's what frustrates me about this whole gay marriage thing. It's not addressing the real problems and Carl is right, addressing the cause is pastoral not legalistic.

    I can remember reading those divorce statistics you cite river, and also being struck with the fact they seemed to reflect exactly the opposite of what one would think, at least on the surface.

    The deeper truth is that one of the hallmarks of long lasting relationhsips is communication and flexibility, not dogmatic reflex. As butterfly points out, this is especially true when other perameters like financial dependence of women are no longer so much in play.

    On the other hand it's probably very true that our current society has swung too far on the flexibility end of things while being no better at inter personal communications than previous generations. In some respects they may be worse at communicating. Can you keep a relationship working through text messaging, twittering, and email?