God intends permanence for marriage
In 1969, Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, passed the first state law allowing for no-fault divorce. Instead of having to prove one partner committed a fault such as adultery or abuse, a marriage could be ended simply because the couple had “irreconcilable differences.” But what have been the consequences of this redefinition of marriage?
After hitting a high point in the 1980s, the divorce rate has returned to the level it was at prior to no-fault divorce. But that’s only because more people are choosing not to marry—11 percent more people, to be precise. But that doesn’t mean an increased number of people have stopped engaging in the marital act.
In 1963, only 7 percent of children were born out of wedlock. Today, that number is 40 percent, and in some socioeconomic communities it’s as high as 71 percent. On average, one out of four children in the U.S. lives apart from his or her biological father. Research has found that children from divorced or unmarried households are more likely to live in poverty and more likely to be abused than children from stable marriages.
The best gift for a child
Child Trends, a nonpartisan research group that has studied the family for the past four decades, says that children in households with married parents have “in general, better health, greater access to health care, and fewer emotional or behavioral problems than children living in other types of families.” In contrast, a child whose parents cohabit but who aren’t married is four times more likely to be abused. A child whose mother has a live-in boyfriend is 11 times more likely to be abused. The best gift you can give your child isn’t the latest toy or game; it’s married parents who are willing to resolve their problems in a healthy way.
Aside from the evidence social science provides for the goodness of lifelong marriage, the Bible reveals that God’s plan for marriage always involved permanence. Jesus said that when a man and woman marry, “they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:8-9). To make his point even clearer he said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12) .
The Catholic Church allows for legal separation and even civil divorce if there are circumstances like spousal abuse. However, if the couple are baptized Christians, then, following what Jesus taught, they are still validly married and so the Church prohibits either person from getting remarried. Even if the marriage fell apart because of infidelity or abuse, sin cannot undo what God has joined together. But grace can overcome sin.
It gives divorced spouses the strength to bear the crimes committed against them, and it gives spouses whose marriages are in trouble the humility to seek spiritual and professional help. Marriage is not easy, but as St. Paul said, “I can do all things in [Christ] who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
This excerpt is printed with permission from Chapter 23, “Til Death Do Us Part,” of the newly published book Why We’re Catholic: Our Reasons for Faith, Hope, and Love, by Trent Horn (Catholic Answers Press, 2017).
TRENT HORN is a convert to Catholicism and staff apologist for Catholic Answers, specializing in teaching Catholics to graciously and persuasively engage those who disagree with them. He is featured weekly on a radio program where he talks with atheists, pro-choice advocates and other non-Catholic callers. He travels worldwide speaking about the Catholic faith, and has authored several books.
Thus the marriage bond has been established by God Himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.