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Richard Kyte

Richard Kyte is the director of the D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership at Viterbo University. He also is a member of the Tribune's editorial board.

In the summer of 1967 I was a ring-bearer in my aunt and uncle’s wedding. Dressed up in a grey tuxedo with pin-striped vest, cufflinks, tie pin and shiny black shoes, I walked down the aisle with Suzy, the flower girl, and took a place at the front of the church. It was a Catholic wedding Mass on a hot summer day. Halfway through the ceremony, I fell asleep and tipped over into the groomsman next to me, disrupting the service.

Jack and DeeDee spent less than $1,000 on their wedding, the average cost in those days. Today, a typical wedding costs $28,000. But that’s not the only difference. My aunt and uncle were doing what most young adults did then: graduate from high school, get a job or go to college, get married, have a family.

According to the Pew Center, 72 percent of adults 18 and older were married in 1960. Today, that number is 51 percent.

Of all the changes in American society during the past 50 years, the decline in marriage is the most troubling — and yet hardly anyone is talking about it. There is, instead, a great deal of debate about same-sex marriages.

The reality is that legalizing marriage for homosexual couples will not have much societal impact. What really matters is that heterosexuals, who comprise 97 percent of the population, are increasingly choosing not to get married.

I think the emotional intensity of the same-sex marriage debate reflects deep confusion over the nature and purpose of marriage. The roots of that confusion can be traced back 2,000 years.

Under classical Roman law, marriage was a civil contract. The Catholic Church reconceived marriage as a holy sacrament in which God joins a man and a woman together for the purpose of raising a family. Marriage became a metaphysical union, not just a contract.

In 1644, John Milton published The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, redefining marriage on the basis of companionship. Quoting the passage in Genesis in which God creates Eve as a cure for Adam’s loneliness, Milton writes: “From which words so plain, less cannot be concluded ... then that in God’s intention a meet and happy conversation is the chiefest and the noblest end of marriage.”

Milton’s redefinition of marriage became the standard view in Protestant denominations, which since the Reformation had conceived of marriage not as a sacrament but as a covenant, a kind of hybrid between the classical Roman and Catholic conceptions of marriage.

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In the United States today, in which about 50 percent of the population identifies as Protestant, 25 percent as Catholic and the other 25 percent as other or no religion, there is a lack of consensus as to the nature and purpose of marriage.

Is marriage a civil contract, a holy sacrament or a covenant? And what is its purpose? Is it a commitment to raise children, a state of companionship or an agreement to share resources?

In the same-sex marriage debate, all of these questions come up. But while Americans are fond of taking sides on issues, we are not so fond of patiently discussing fundamental questions.

We need to have a national conversation about marriage, because as it stands now, the institution is slowly dying.

Several national studies point to the fact that married parents are key to raising children to be physically, emotionally and financially secure.

Yet young couples are increasingly choosing cohabitation over marriage. Today

40 percent of children spend at least part of their childhood in a cohabiting household. Those children are 10 times more likely to suffer physical abuse than children in a married household with biological parents.

An even greater concern is that children brought up by married parents are set upon on a path of upward socio-economic mobility, while the children of single and cohabiting parents face a downward future. Studies show this trend is creating two rapidly diverging classes in America — the poor unmarried class and the wealthy married class.

Jack and DeeDee had few financial resources when they got married. But they understood that their wedding wasn’t a performance meant to impress; it was a public ritual of commitment, in which family and friends witnessed and pledged to help them keep their vows. They all knew that marriage is important for families, and that families are the basis of strong communities.

The Ethical Life is a series of reflections on the ways ethical thinking influences our actions, emotions and relationships. Richard Kyte is the director of the D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership at Viterbo University.

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(13) comments

Cassandra

And then there are all those "straight" married males who advertise on Craigslist, looking for a little M4M action on the side. So much for the "sanctity" of their vows.

pheasant

Yes, like our very own County Supervisor, and Department of Workforce Development Employee? LOL!

pheasant

Buying it!

RemoteEmployee

Wow Craig! Are you buying it on Craigslist? Way to "out" yourself!!! Congratulations!

FUBAR

SO you check these things? And how do you know that the people who advertised are actualy married or are who they say they are. Again believing everything you read.

YUP, here is a "real" thing posted on Craigslist.

1982 WV Scirraco. Runs and drives... Poorly. Needs electrical work. The heat doesn't work. The headlights cut out when you go over big bumps. The tires should be replaced. One tire leaks down overnight. As you can see its a bit ugly but if you have no self respect and need a cheap ride to the crack house this one's for you! Or restore into a super-rad fast and furious street racer. (erector set wing required)

$450 firm
Or possible trade for 2013 Lamborghini.
Serious inquiries only.
Call John
• Location: White Lake
•it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

pheasant

Do some research on your own T. Get back to us. Search some numbers for Latinos, Asians, caucasian, and blacks? In fact there is a portion of William Shockley's Theory that I agree with wholeheartedly. That the people with the lowest IQ's are having more children , and conversely the people with the highest IQs are having fewer children. Making the Intelligence level of our Country and World lower genetically.

pheasant

The government has made 'the numbers for blacks in our country worse. Incarceration, single parent, assistance, food stamps, etc. I beleive because the 'government' has made it possible for a woman with two children to bring home far more income by taking advantage of all ins of assitance. In fact that woman with two children makes far more than the average per capita income n Lacrosse. Base assistance, heat, food stamps,, education, child care. etc, etc. The numbers are there to verify Talulah. In far too many cases generational numbers? Although what it has done is minimize the Black Male, and his role in a family. Do you have any other questions T?

greatgeneration

Dr. Kyte outlines the central issues very well. Thank you.

pheasant

"Today, a typical wedding costs $28,000"? Richard, you really need to get in touch of me. You need to come up to my neighborhood and go slumming for a day or two. Talk about out of touch. People around here have too much month left after their check. $28k for a wedding? LOL! They cant even afford dental work, or health insurance! We are to busy paying the heighest taxes n WI, perstudent cost, fire cost, and health cost. On the lowest pr capita income. About 1/2 that of Madison? Gee I wonder why that is? LOL, again.

Deadwood subscriber

I think Mr Kyte misses the point: the problem isn't declining marriage rates. The problem is having children.

There is nothing inherently wrong with fewer marriages.

pheasant

Really Richard? As if the statistics of Blacks and Assistance of the Black Race in America do not reflect that quite wll. Do they pay you for this?

Talulah3

What? Can you clarify please?

RemoteEmployee

Craig - Your racism is showing. Get off the "Black thing". Just a friendly tip from your little buddy, Remote Employee.

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