“Why should the church care about marriage?” is an unusual question or me. At 27, I’ve not even considered marriage, and as someone firmly in the “millennial” generation I’m not unusual. According to a recent Pew study, 26% of millennials aren’t married by the time they turn 32. Contrast that with 36% of Gen-x, 48% of Boomers and 65% of the silent generation. The median age women and men got married in in the 1950’s was 20 and 23 respectively; now it’s 27 and 29. Marriage is slowly becoming something you do later in life.
No one’s sure why an entire generation is waiting so late to get married, but I know I have mixed feelings about the kind of commitment marriage entails. I didn’t wake up one day feeling that way. I’ve been raised in a culture that has projected negative messages regarding marriage my entire life. While the numbers are debated, it’s believed that half of all marriages end in divorce, meaning a lot of people were raised in households in which marriages ended (even though my own parents divorced when I was an adult, it still effected my own feelings). Most of the successful marriages I’ve encounter required one partner to give up their own aspirations in exchange for their partners in what seemed like an unfair arrangement (historically, the female partner has been expected to carry this burden…while a self-identifying male myself, I don’t want to be the reason someone else gives up their own dreams). And this is all without even mentioning the way in which some in the church have used the institution to exclude members of the LGBTQ community.
All of this is to say that the institution of marriage needs to be redeemed if it’s going to last. It needs to be more about the public display of love that is possible when two people fully commit to one another, and less about who can participate. If you want people to feel positive about marriage, about the sacrament designed to symbolize the love felt between two people then maybe we should start having a conversation about inclusion and not exclusion. Maybe we should start caring about a message of love and not discrimination.
I haven’t fully ruled out marriage in my life (there are those who have), only put it off for later. Despite my negative feelings, I’ve encounter couples who exemplify what I would want in a relationship. They actively practice equality, sharing responsibilities and work together to make life decisions. They intentionally work through problems and try to make sure they support each other’s endeavors. They believe love means more than an emotional reaction, but the practice of drawing close, supporting one another, and seeing their lives as shared. It feels like these kinds of couples have been few and far between, but I know they exist, and they’re both same and opposite sex marriages.
We need more, not less of these loving marriages. There are people in my congregation who are committed to their spouses, who are vibrant participants in the church, who are exemplary partners. They’re the kind of people that make me think love is possible. The church being committed to equal rights, speaking up with those for their right to marry and celebrating their love as a community sends the message that the church still cares about supporting love. If we chose not to care about marriage equality, then an entire generation will continue to grow with the belief that marriage really isn’t worth it, that it’s symbol of hate and exclusion.
Why should the church care about marriage? I hope it’s because you care about your own marriage, and want to make sure everyone has access to the kind of life it has given you. But if that’s not enough, as someone weary of what marriage means, I need some encouragement. For everyone reading this: prove to me that marriage can be something beautiful, something life giving, something powerful. Because I’ve been raised in a culture where I don’t see it. Marriage has been a road towards animosity, a way of giving up ones own aspirations, a source of exclusion. Make it something more. Make it about an inclusive, powerful, life changing love that’s for everyone.
Why do YOU think the church should care about marriage?