8 Threats to Marriage and What to Do About Them
The following guest post is by Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro with Fr. Peter West, both of Human Life International. Links are to other articles from HLI.
Today, thousands of Americans will gather in Washington, DC ,for the March for Marriage. Some may ask, “Why now?” Though weakened by previous assaults, the institution of marriage is now under a ferocious assault as never before in human history. Participation in the march is essential to defend marriage as the permanent union of one man and one woman open to the generation of life. In the past, the unity and indissolubility of marriage were weakened due to an insufficient understanding of Natural Law. With greater effect, this newest attack on marriage is fashioned by those who attempt to redefine marriage to include same-sex relationships based on gender theory.
Threat #1: Wounded Nature
The Book of Genesis reveals that problems between men and women stem from the fact that our human nature is wounded by original sin. Inclinations toward sin from our wounded human nature often lead to bad choices. For example, irrational tendencies can make healthy relationships between spouses difficult. Often couples marry with little or no thought or preparation. Often, too much attention is paid to the wedding day and honeymoon, instead of the focus on a lifelong commitment. When difficulties come, as they inevitably do, couples are often too quick to separate. Bad choices can be dictated either by pride, lust, power, or greed; yet, God tells even Cain that he has the ability to master his evil tendencies. (Gen. 4:7) Prayer and the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist are remedies for our wounded human nature. Through Penance we are absolved of our sins; through the Eucharist we are fed and strengthened to overcome our daily faults and avoid mortal sin.
Threat #2: Materialism and Secularism
Our wounded human nature makes things difficult enough, but our decadent, secularized culture exacerbates the devaluation of marriage. Since the 19th century, growing materialism, hedonism, and consumerism contributed to a cult of selfishness. States adopted no-fault divorce laws that made divorcing one’s spouse easier. Celebrities who divorced and remarried multiple times served as poor role models. The birth control pill contributed to marital infidelity. As a result, divorce rates, which climbed steadily throughout the 20th century, skyrocketed in the 1970’s reaching an all-time high of 40 per 1,000 married women in the late 1970s.
Today, the attack against marriage is even more basic – attempting to change the definition of marriage by rejecting God’s original plan. Even in the Church, there are those who, in the name of false mercy, would condone the violation of God’s plan for marriage by condoning contraception or allowing communion for those divorced and remarried without an annulment, or those who remain silent about same-sex “marriage.” Faithfully imparting the faith to the young, regular family prayer and a simple lifestyle can help us set and keep the right priorities.
Threat #3: Despair for the Future
Many people fear having children because their future seems so uncertain. They fear openness to children, because they fear the loss of financial stability and independence. At the root of this fear is a lack of solid faith and the misguided notion that a commitment is simply a constraint on freedom rather than an essential element of true love. Marriage is a true calling from God, Who calls the couple to a lifetime commitment. In the Sacrament of Matrimony, God gives His grace to perfect their gifts and strengthens them to carry out their responsibilities.
An exaggerated fear of the future may also stem from a lack of historical perspective, or paying too much attention to prophets of doom. Pope Francis recently said, “There are those who say it is a mistake to bring these children into the world, due to their fragility, and the hunger and poverty they suffer. But children are never a mistake, and their sufferings are only reasons for us to love them even more.” Couples need to cultivate the virtue of hope to have more trust in Divine Providence.
In many developed countries delayed maturity is a contributor to despair. A growing number of young people suffer from what some call “Peter Pan Syndrome,” the desire to remain young and avoid responsibility. In terms of age they are mature, but they remain as adolescents in the emotional life and fear the challenges of life as an adult. Fear of commitment and divorce leads many couples to choose to live together without marriage, but there can be no true love without total self-giving with a life-time commitment as couples do in marriage. The Bishops of Kansas respond to the problem of cohabitation in the pastoral letter “Cohabitation Before Marriage.”
Pope Francis also warned against the “culture of the temporary,” which calls everything into question and leads to a superficial attitude toward the assuming of responsibilities. Often, couples postpone having children too long. As people age, their desire for children grows stronger; yet, they may no longer have the ability to physically bear them. People need to be warned that God is always willing to forgive, but nature never forgives.
This threat could be remedied when people, regardless of age, are challenged to embrace responsibility and taught the benefits of marital commitment and stability.
Threat #4 – Radical Feminism
For decades, authentic femininity has been under attack from radical feminism. The hard-fought movement for the authentic rights of women, thanks to America’s suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, favored voting rights and the recognition of the equal dignity of women. They never advocated for abortion, for they saw it as an exploitation of women. Unfortunately, what began as a legitimate campaign for rights morphed in the mid-twentieth century, blurring the distinctions between men and women. The traditional role of women as homemakers and mothers was disparaged. Betty Freidan argued in her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique: “The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own.”
Radical feminism now insists on the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions. This threat transforms culture by rejecting Natural Law, denying the ability to bring forth life, thus encouraging the violence of abortion, discrimination against children, and exploitation of the female genius. To combat this radical feminism Pope Saint John Paul II said in Evangelium vitae, “We must promote an authentic recognition of the dignity of women that acknowledges the unique gifts and vocations of both women and men.” We should work to bring about changes in society so that a woman who is called to marriage feels economically and psychologically free to stay home and raise children, and that her choice is appreciated.
Threat #5 – Promoting Homosexuality through Gender Theory and “Marriage Equality”
Gender theory activists strive to socially reconstruct roles based on transitory desires rather than on actual, biological sexual characteristics. This ideology also threatens children as it denies the real differences between men and women, particularly regarding fatherhood and motherhood. Such a serious threat completely undermines the stability of the home. In his Christmas address to the Roman Curia in 2012 Benedict XVI warned: “The profound falsehood of this [gender] theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, which serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.” Based on this erroneous theory, advocates demand changes in the civil law and even Church teaching. They seek to change the definition of marriage and call for “marriage equality,” which would treat natural marriages and same-sex unions as if they were the same; though, in fact, they can never be equal in reality.
As the Church clearly teaches, “Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference andcomple
The Church teaches that we must be sensitive towards persons who experience gender confusion and homosexual tendencies; but we must be clear that the homosexual orientation is a tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil “and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church bases teaching on Sacred Scripture, “which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law.” (CCC #2357)
The pressure to redefine marriage on the basis of a supposed equality between normal sexual orientation and the homosexual orientation damages society in many different ways. “Redefining marriage and the family denies children of the mother and father they need and deserve. The movement for “marriage equality” doesn’t stand for true equality under the law, but for forcing a complete reversal of natural and traditional moral norms. Since it is totally contrary to the natural order it must be imposed on society through unjust laws and personal attacks.” Defenders of marriage must be aware the strategy of those who promote the homosexual agenda and refuse to be intimidated by their aggressive tactics. We must go on the offensive and boldly teach the truth with love whether it is popular or not.
Threat #6 – Mixed Faith Marriages
While the Church usually grants a dispensation permitting mixed-faith marriages, they are strongly discouraged. Even before considering the theological aspect of mixed marriage, the question should be asked: “How can a marriage survive when two people have fundamentally different views about marriage?” When couples have different beliefs about the indissolubility of marriage or about openness to children or the raising of children in a faith, conflicts are bound to develop that may be very difficult to resolve.
According to a study by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research, Catholics have a lower divorce rate than couples of other faiths. Mixed marriages are more prone to failure. Catholics who marry Protestants or non-religious spouses have a divorce rate of 49% and 48%, respectively. Catholics who marry someone of the Jewish faith have a 35% rate, while Catholics who marry other Catholics have a 27% divorce rate.
When we incorporate solid marriage preparation programs, we can fully educate people about the risks of mixed marriages and encourage healthy discussion about their basic views of marriage. We must educate couples about the potential pitfalls of mixed marriages. Couples should be required to take a compatibility test and discuss the results afterwards. The priest does have the discretion to decline to witness the marriage of a couple he believes is not sufficiently prepared or who has not though through potential difficulties.
Threat #7 – The Tragedy of Civil Divorce
In the past, the civil law in many Catholic countries made divorce difficult or impossible. Often, people wrongly believe that because something is legally permissible that it’s also moral. Man-made laws reflect and teach certain values, values that may not necessarily be good for a healthy society. No-fault divorce laws were instituted in Russia in 1918, starting a destructive trend that has spread throughout the world. In recent years, several states in the USA have adopted covenant marriages, which require a higher level of commitment than a simple civil marriage to stem high divorce rates.
Why should we care about high divorce rates? Studies reveal that divorce wounds children in a particular way because it deprives them of the nurturing support of a father and mother in the same household. A 2012 study described the negative effects of divorce on children: “It frequently leads to destructive conflict management methods, diminished social competence and for children, the early loss of virginity, as well as diminished sense of masculinity or femininity for young adults. It also results in more trouble with dating, more cohabitation, greater likelihood of divorce and higher expectations of divorce later in life.”
Catholics must not be afraid to proclaim the social kingdom of Christ and make all possible efforts fight unjust laws which are contrary to Natural Law and the good of persons and families. Unsurprisingly, the number of divorces skyrocketed after the passage of no-fault divorce laws. At the very least, divorces should be more difficult to obtain and couples encouraged to honor their commitment to God and to each other.
Threat #8 – The Attack on Parental Rights
Marriage, by its nature, is oriented to the procreation and education of children. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring…” (CCC #1601). As the primary educators of their children, parents are, regrettably, increasingly being denied this right and duty in many different ways by contemporary society. A significant number of countries deny the right of parents to homeschool their children. Furthermore, parents in many places are denied the right to control what their children are taught in schools, mainly through compulsory anti-life and anti-family sex education. Many public schools have implemented programs to instruct children on the need to redefine marriage. We should particularly abhor the encouragement and provision of access to abortion and contraception without parental knowledge or consent.
In conclusion, the strongest possible antidote to these menacing threats against traditional, sacramental marriage is solid marriage preparation. As Cardinal Raymond Burke said recently,
We must inspire courage in Catholic couples to give the witness to the truth about marriage and family that our culture so sorely needs. We must help Christian homes to be the domestic Church, according to the ancient description, the first place in which the Catholic faith is taught, celebrated and lived. The whole Church must help parents to live generously and faithfully their vocation to the married life.
Married couples need to pray together. Catholics who practice their faith are less likely to divorce. Families need to pray together. Marriage counseling should be encouraged when marriages are rocky. Programs like Retrouvaille provide a life-line to couples experiencing troubles in their marriage. Compatibility tests before marriage help couples to understand what their individual strengths and weaknesses and are so that together, as a union, they can find ways to support each other’s weaknesses and build on their strengths. A new marriage program from theAugustine Institute called “Beloved – Finding Happiness in Marriage” can help enrich one’s marriage.
Demonstrations such as the March for Marriage this weekend are an important public witness to the sanctity of marriage. They tell the public that we believe that marriage is worth defending. It is vital to defend marriage between one man and one woman since an authentic marriage is the foundation of the family and the family is the foundation of society. The March for Marriage strengthens those who participate and lends courage to those who witness it to proclaim the truth and the beauty of authentic, natural marriage. Please consider joining us on and pray for the success of this march, for married couples,and for the defense of marriage.
Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro, the executive director of Human Life International’s Rome office, co-wrote this article with Father Peter West, vice president of missions at HLI HQ in Front Royal, Virginia.