What Marriage Was and Where Itís Goingcomment (0)
January 1, 2004
By Bob Terry
In a recent commentary for Religion News Service, Baptist ethics professor David Gushee wrote that the November decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court authorizing homosexual “marriage” did not happen in a vacuum. Gushee observed, “We got here through a long and winding process involving the steady disintegration of a historic cultural consensus about the nature and meaning of “marriage.”
Gushee’s point should be self-evident. Unfortunately, most of us are so caught up in day-to-day activities that we fail to notice the destructive trends of the society in which we live. It should not be overlooked that the historical cultural consensus of this nation was largely shaped by the Bible. As the teaching of Scripture was increasingly disregarded, that cultural consensus shattered.
The result is that marriage itself is in danger. In 1950, 78.2 percent of all households in the United States were composed of married couples. The latest government number is 52.9 percent. That is more than a 25 percent decline in the percentage of married couples to total households in 50 years, and there is no indication the downward trend will stop.
Society used to pass laws to encourage marriage. The notion of cohabitation between unmarried adults of the opposite sex was frowned upon, often forbidden. No longer. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) reported that 44 percent of those under age 35 have cohabited and 33 percent of those in the 35–49 age bracket have done the same. Nationally, the figure is 39 percent of men and 28 percent of women have lived in co-habiting relationships.
At the same time, the NCHS reported that unmarried cohabitations are less stable than marriages. The breakup rate for cohabitations within the first five years is two and a half times greater than for marriages in the same time period.
Marriage was supposed to be characterized by sexual fidelity to one’s partner. Adultery was against the law. Now such laws are considered archaic. Alabama is one of the few states with such a law still on the books. The altered legal position reflects the cultural breakdown. Barna reports that 42 percent of all U.S. adults believe it is morally acceptable to have a sexual relationship with someone of the opposite sex to whom you are not married.
Marriage was to be monogamous according to cultural norms. Now recent judicial decisions may have fatally undermined that position. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas sodomy laws saying the right to privacy barred the government from intervening in sexual activity between consenting adults.
In response Utah’s most notorious polygamist, Tom Green, is appealing his convictions for bigamy on the grounds that the state has no compelling interest in what goes on in one’s own home between consenting adults. If he wins, bigamy and polygamy could become the norm instead of the biblical standard of one man and one woman.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, recently made this point when he said, “It is certainly probable that court-mandated ‘privacy’ will soon cover not only homosexual conduct and ‘marriage’ but polygamy and all other sorts of sexual deviances as well.”
Marriage was supposed to provide the context for conception and childbearing. Yet for the last year of record, the National Vital Statistics Report shows 1.3 million births to unmarried women. The birthrate was 43.9 births for every 1,000 unmarried women ages 15–24. One third of all births in the United States were to unmarried women.
Another gruesome statistic about this subject is that 40 percent of pregnancies to unmarried women ended in abortions for the last year of record. Thankfully this is a change from 1990 when a majority of such pregnancies ended in abortion rather than live births. Yet the figure is still frightening. In 1950 the birth rate for unmarried women was 14.1 per 1,000. The percentage of births to un- married women was 4 percent and abortion was illegal.
Marriage was supposed to be for a lifetime. Now the chance of divorce within five years of marriage is one in five according to NCHS. About one-third of marriages end in divorce within 10 years.
Nationally, 34 percent of adults who have been married have also been divorced. For the southern region of the nation, that figure is 35 percent.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 9.7 percent of the nation’s total population age 15 and above is divorced. For the South, the percentage is 10.2. Alabama is the highest of the three with an average of 10.6 percent.
Marriage was supposed to be heterosexual. The Bible indicated God created Adam and Eve as partners and marriage was the relationship in which man and woman lived together. Same-sex “marriage” was unthinkable until recently.
Reflecting on such developments, Gushee concluded, “Every dimension of the historic meaning of marriage in Western culture has been in decline for some time.” Again, he is right.
The question facing each of us as individuals — each family, each church and, yes, society as a whole — is: What are we going to do about it? Rallying against homosexual “marriage” is not enough, even though it should be vigorously opposed. Nothing short of reclaiming the biblical standards of marriage will rescue this sacred relationship from perishing in the storm of changing cultural norms.