October 20, 2011
The country music sound of Kenny Rogers singing
Always and Forever, like the soft, easy notes of Nat King Cole crooning
When I Fall in Love, strikes a universal chord that resonates in the heart. True love is forever. Not by chance do bride and groom vow their love to each other, saying “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health until death do us part.”
Sadly, many spouses do part before death. Since 1970, there has been a 40% increase in divorce. There has also been a 30% decline in marriage itself. Young people are postponing marriage to older ages; some forego marriage altogether.
Officials in Mexico City have considered a new way to address the breakdown of life-long commitment in marriages. They have proposed a reform of the civil code that would allow for a temporary marriage. Couples would be allowed to opt for a marriage license for a minimum of two years. At the same time, they could also settle who gets what, including the children, when such an arrangement ends.
This proposed arrangement makes sense if marriage is simply a human contract that can be made and broken at will. Such an arrangement makes sense if marriage only concerns the good of the couple involved and their own personal happiness. Such an arrangement makes sense if marriage is merely a license to room with someone else.
But marriage is much more. Marriage is not a mere contract between a man and a woman. Marriage is a covenant. It is the mutual gift of self to the other in a stable relationship that is open to parenting. There is a longing in the human person for intimacy and fulfillment that can only be achieved with the permanent gift of self to another. The more complete the gift, the greater the happiness.
Marriage is not a human institution. Marriage comes from God and leads to God. God created man and woman in his own image. He blessed them and said, “Be fertile and multiply… (Gen 1:28). “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). A secularized society that has no place for God has no place either for marriage as God intends it to be.
God intends marriage to be more than a way for man and woman to find in each other a partner for life. Marriage is God’s plan for the human race to continue. It is an institution wider than the husband and wife. The marital union between a man and a woman is the foundation of the family and the family is the foundation of society. This is the very reason why the state even gets involved in marriage. But a society that defines marriage only as a means of personal fulfillment closes its eyes to God’s plan for children and, ultimately, to the common good.
Every child needs a mother and a father. Even Nature herself tells us this. But beyond the mere biological fact, recent research shows that children raised in a home with a mother and father do better in school, enjoy greater mental health and succeed more readily in life than children raised in single parent households. In a home where a mother and a father love each other, a child learns self-discipline, generosity and responsibility.
In so many single-parent families, a mother or father sacrifices much for their children because they love much. And, other family members often step into the place of the missing parent. Their love and support make a much needed contribution to the development and well-being of children in these families. But to recognize this is one thing. To deliberately create single parent homes and declare these the same as families with a father and a mother is quite another thing. In a word, a temporary marriage makes sense in a society that cares little for its children or its own future.
A society that chooses to subtract lifelong commitment from marriage and thus ignore the emotional well-being of the spouses and the good of children is not providing a less painful way to deal with the bitter reality of divorce. It is sowing self-destruction in the marriage covenant itself. Ultimately, when a society abrogates to itself the right to redefine marriage according to the whim of an age, it signs its own death certificate.