How about a shout-out for the month of June? Named for the Roman goddess of marriage, June has been the go-to month for weddings since ancient times.
For centuries, the reasons for the popularity of June nuptials were more practical than romantic. For example, babies conceived after a June wedding would be born in the spring and thus would have a better chance for survival.
Traditionally, the groom has stood to the right of the bride during the wedding ceremony. In the olden days, if someone were to swoop in to kidnap the bride (and steal her dowry), the groom would have quick access to his sword in order to defend her.
These days, marriage itself could use a defender or two. Troubling trends are afoot. While marriage statistics remain relatively stable for those who are college graduates, the marriage rate is sharply plummeting for those with a high school education or less. The divorce rate hovers around 50%. 41% of new marriages end in divorce, 60 % of second marriages do, and 73% of third marriages fail. The "partnering and repartnering" syndrome has become more of the norm than the exception. As a consequence, children who grow up in intact families are becoming the exception rather than the rule. The new norm in America is to have your first child before you marry, if, indeed, you marry at all. According to the June issue of The Atlantic Monthly, 58% of first time mothers are unmarried.
Our nation is in the midst of an important conversation about same-gender marriage. My hope is that we will, in addition, have a long overdue conversation about marriage, period. As we talk, let us also begin to act. Here are a few suggestions:
- Support public policies that encourage two parent families. Far too frequently, tax and welfare systems penalize couples of low income who choose to marry.
- Remember the children! They need the assurance of sustained support and safety, whether they live with one parent or two, with a grandmother or an aunt or an uncle. Just one adult who loves and cares for a child can make all the difference.
- Support families, whatever their shape or form. It is the family that transmits or does not transmit values and life skills. At home, kids learn to trust and love, to be accountable and practice self-restraint. Or not.
- Never stigmatize single parents. Remember that marriage is not for everybody and that most marriages that end in divorce do so for good reason.
- If you are married, try to forgive more and judge less. It's better to be connected than right.
Marriage and family are the two basic structures that have undergirded human society since the beginning of time. For the ordering of life, for well-being of the community, for the birth and nurture of children, there is nothing better.