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Divorce and Same-Sex Marriage,

by Daniel O’Rourke
26 July 2012

Recently the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church became the largest U.S. denomination “to officially sanction same-sex relationships.” Hedging its bet, it said the rite is not a marriage ceremony, but the ceremony includes prayers and an exchange of vows and rings. It surely sounds like a marriage ceremony to me. The United Church of Christ is the only other major U.S. Protestant church that has endorsed same-sex marriage.


Many conservative individuals and groups have claimed that any kind of recognition of same-sex marriage will cheapen marriage between a man and a woman – and undermine the traditional family, as we know it. This condemnation is not new. Others made it last May when President Obama endorsed same-sex marriage.

Kentucky Senator Ron Paul in criticism of Obama’s support for same-sex marriage bloviated, “The family is a really important thing” and that it was necessary to defend it to ”save the Republic.” That was over-the-top, but even less emotional criticisms that same-sex marriage threatens the family are unpersuasive. Same-sex marriage does not threaten the family; divorce does. Opponents of same-sex marriage would do better to focus their efforts on our country’s high divorce rate.

Establishing accurate divorce rates, however, is difficult, but some things are clear. One, the younger people are when they marry the greater the chances for divorce. Two, second and third marriages have much higher rates of divorce. Three, according to some sociologists 66% of divorced couples are childless, yet the divorce rate for couples with children is slightly lower.

I have many divorced friends, many now in successful marriages. This statistical data might be true globally, but it does not apply to them – or to many like them.

In some places the divorce rate is declining. That can be explained because couples are marrying later and many do not bother to get married in the first place. All this data and statistics, however, do not belie the hard reality that the United States has one of the highest divorce rates among the nations of the world.

What if the states required pre-marriage conferences – like the Catholic Pre-Cana classes – so couples can seriously contemplate what marriage really entails? A church that recognizes same-sex marriages might require that for both traditional and same-sex couples. Moreover, what if the states made it harder to get a divorce? What if they required pre-divorce counseling? Many would object that that would infringe on the couples’ freedom of choice – and admittedly counseling might do little good in cases of alcohol/drug addiction or spousal abuse. But there is a lot at stake here. Margaret Atwood, the Canadian poet and novelist said, “Divorce is like an amputation; you survive but there is less of you.”

I wrote about divorce six years ago. “To Divorce or Not Divorce” in my book, The Spirit At Your Back. Here’s what I wrote then.

“Any married couple that has persevered in their marriage will tell you, that they had to work at it. Young couples caught up in the fever of romance and passion don’t realize this, but marriage is hard work. It demands negotiations, compromise, kindness and forgiveness about everything: about money, and in-laws, and sex – when, and how and how much – whether to have babies and who cooks, washes the dishes, or cleans the bathroom. There must be communication and compromise and when one party fails or gets impatient the other has to be forgiving. That can only be done with grace. That’s why some churches consider marriage a sacrament and all of them bless weddings.
“The words from Saint Paul in First Corinthians about love not being jealous, boastful, resentful, or arrogant are often read at weddings, but they are not always lived in marriages. About half the marriages in the country end in divorce (and some should), but that does not have to be. When the rough patches come, and they will, the couple might look to family and friends who have worked through their own difficulties. These couples could teach us much. It’s not true in all cases, of course, some couples should separate, but divorce is too often the easy way out.”

What I wrote then is still true, what changes the mix now is the current debate over same-sex marriage, but same-sex marriage does not threaten the traditional family.

Divorce can.

Daniel O’Rourke lives in Cassadaga, New York. His column appears in the Observer, Dunkirk, NY on the second and fourth Thursday each month. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His new book, The Living Spirit is a collection of previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website



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