December 3, 2010


Is marriage becoming obsolete? The U.S. bishops disagree

Have you seen the Nov. 29 cover of Time magazine that proclaims: “Who Needs Marriage? A Changing Institution.”

Or have you heard about the Pew Research Center’s report on “the decline of marriage and rise of new families”? Or did you read the Fox News article that says four in 10 Americans believe marriage is becoming obsolete?

If you have read any of these reports, or simply observed the increasing number of cohabitating couples, single parents or same-sex couples, then you know why the American bishops have made the defense of marriage one of their top priorities.

According to the Pew study, which was conducted in association with Time, about 39 percent of Americans say marriage is becoming obsolete.

Based on newly released U.S. census data, nearly 30 percent of children under 18 now live with a parent or parents who are unwed or no longer married. Today, only 52 percent of adults in the United States are married, which the Pew research says places the institution of marriage at “an all-time low.”

Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, who was recently elected vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is the chairman of the bishops’ Committee for the Defense of Marriage. According to Archbishop Kurtz, “today is like 1970 for marriage.”

Recalling that 1973 was the year that the U.S. Supreme Court issued its infamous decision legalizing abortion, the archbishop asked his brother bishops, “If you had seen Roe v. Wade coming three years out, what would you have done differently?”

Speaking for the U.S. bishops, Archbishop Kurtz made it clear that there is much work that needs to be done to defend the importance of marriage as a social institution and as an instrument of God’s plan for the human race.

Americans who recognize the serious threat posed by legislative efforts to change the definition of marriage in order to recognize same-sex unions as marriages must not be silent or inactive, the archbishop said. Unless we work to prevent it, the negative social trends reported in the Pew study, and celebrated in the news and entertainment media, will become law.

So what is to be done? According to Archbishop Kurtz, the U.S. bishops are doing much more to educate the Catholic community about the sanctity of marriage and the threats facing marriage as a social institution.

A new DVD titled “Made for Each Other,” with accompanying educational materials, is being distributed around the country, and additional resources are being developed aimed at teaching children. The bishops are also exploring ways to collaborate with other Christian Churches in defense of the traditional understanding of marriage.

What can Catholics do to help strengthen marriage and to prevent it from being further devalued as a social institution and as a sacrament?

Begin by affirming the importance of marriage within our own families. Renew our own marriage vows. Provide encouragement and support to our parents or children or siblings who are married. Pray for married couples who are experiencing difficulties. Offer personal testimony to our experience of married love—and to the way that Christ is present in the daily life of married couples.

Teach our children—by our words and our example—that marriage is much more than a social contract or a convenience in living arrangements. Give witness to marriage as a sacrament, a way to holiness and a visible sign of God’s love for us.

Make sure that our elected representatives—and judges—know where we stand on the importance of marriage as the lifelong union of a man and a woman. Oppose efforts to devalue or redefine marriage. Speak out when necessary in defense of what we know is right and true.

Archbishop Kurtz challenges each one of us as disciples of Jesus Christ: “If you had seen Roe v. Wade coming three years out, what would you have done differently?” Would we have sat idly by and let it happen? Or would we have worked to prevent it?

Now is the time to pray, speak and act. Now is the time to defend marriage—in a positive, proactive and nondiscriminatory way. If we believe that marriage is a gift from God to be cherished, nurtured and shared generously with future generations, then we must be good stewards of this sacred treasure.

Is marriage becoming obsolete? Not if we remain faithful to God’s plan, giving witness to one of his greatest gifts.

—Daniel Conway

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