Marriage is not for the individual alone, it is for the family of man.
“Marriage is more than your love for each other. … In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal—it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. … So love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I have felt this many times but never found the words to say it. I am grateful for this wise man. We need his words today. There is so much discussion of marriage as a right or a possession. The idea of marriage as a post of responsibility towards mankind is a much more elevated concept, one that we may have lost sight of as a society.
In what ways is marriage an office? In what ways is marriage a responsibility—like a promise to society as a whole?
Let’s look at the most basic level first. Statically speaking, one of the fastest ways to become poor in this country is to become a single mom. Marriages are a powerful barrier against poverty. How many families would no longer need government assistance if more fathers viewed their marriage as Bonhoeffer describes?
Secondly, marriage is more than just your love for each other and more than just a piece of paper. In fact, that barely scratches the surface. Marriage is a promise before God to be completely faithful—to be one. It is also a promise in the eyes of the civil government to be responsible to and for each other. We need to stop thinking of marriage in terms of what it proves—like a banner, prize or statement. Wouldn’t we all benefit from the understanding of marriage as something we build, not something we claim?
Last and definitely most importantly, marriage is for our children. With all the attitudes of entitlement that plague our American society, this is one application where entitlement is actually appropriate. It is my firm belief that children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony. One of my favorite articles on this subject states in part:
Of utmost importance to the well-being of children is whether their parents were married, the nature and duration of the marriage, and, more broadly, the culture and expectations of marriage and child care where they live. Two scholars of the family explain: “Throughout history, marriage has first and foremost been an institution for procreation and raising children. It has provided the cultural tie that seeks to connect the father to his children by binding him to the mother of his children. Yet in recent times, children have increasingly been pushed from center stage.”
A Harvard law professor describes the current law and attitude toward marriage and divorce: “The [current] American story about marriage, as told in the law and in much popular literature, goes something like this: marriage is a relationship that exists primarily for the fulfillment of the individual spouses. If it ceases to perform this function, no one is to blame and either spouse may terminate it at will. … Children hardly appear in the story; at most they are rather shadowy characters in the background.”
[The leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] have taught that looking “upon marriage as a mere contract that may be entered into at pleasure … and severed at the first difficulty … is an evil meriting severe condemnation,” especially where “children are made to suffer.” And children are impacted by divorces. Over half of the divorces in a recent year involved couples with minor children.
Many children would have had the blessing of being raised by both of their parents if only their parents had followed this inspired teaching in the family proclamation: “Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. … Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another.” The most powerful teaching of children is by the example of their parents. Divorcing parents inevitably teach a negative lesson.
There are surely cases when a divorce is necessary for the good of the children, but those circumstances are exceptional. In most marital contests the contending parents should give much greater weight to the interests of the children. With the help of the Lord, they can do so. Children need the emotional and personal strength that come from being raised by two parents who are united in their marriage and their goals. As one who was raised by a widowed mother, I know firsthand that this cannot always be achieved, but it is the ideal to be sought whenever possible.
Children are the first victims of current laws permitting so-called “no-fault divorce.” From the standpoint of children, divorce is too easy. Summarizing decades of social science research, a careful scholar concluded that “the family structure that produces the best outcomes for children, on average, are two biological parents who remain married.” A New York Times writer noted “the striking fact that even as traditional marriage has declined in the United States … the evidence has mounted for the institution’s importance to the well-being of children.” That reality should give important guidance to parents and parents-to-be in their decisions involving marriage and divorce. We also need politicians, policy makers, and officials to increase their attention to what is best for children in contrast to the selfish interests of voters and vocal advocates of adult interests.
Children are also victimized by marriages that do not occur. Few measures of the welfare of our rising generation are more disturbing than the recent report that 41 percent of all births in the United States were to women who were not married. Unmarried mothers have massive challenges, and the evidence is clear that their children are at a significant disadvantage when compared with children raised by married parents.
Most of the children born to unmarried mothers—58 percent—were born to couples who were cohabitating. Whatever we may say about these couples’ forgoing marriage, studies show that their children suffer significant comparative disadvantages. For children, the relative stability of marriage matters.
(From Dallin H. Oaks, Protect the Children, General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 2012)
His words ring true to me. I believe that marriage is vitally important to children, to society and in the eyes of God. My prayer is that we, as a nation, return to a tradition of marriage—not only for ourselves but for each other.