The State of the Union

On Wednesday, the President gave the annual State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress.  Since I am known as a political junkie, I was asked by many people if I watched the speech and what I thought of it.

I have to confess that I haven’t watched a State of the Union Address in over twenty years.  I find them almost unbearable to watch — full of platitudes and bromides, with artificial applause lines, and little that is of real substance or interest.  I liken it to an American political version of Kabuki theater — highly stylized and formal dance, with everyone wearing a mask.

In my mind, it would have been much more interesting if the President and Congress had taken a few moments to take stock of the real state of the most important union we have — marriage.

The strength of marriage is an essential measure of how healthy our society is.  Marriage — the life-long faithful union of a man and woman, dedicated to their well-being and the procreation and raising of children — is the foundation of any society.  And by all reasonable measures, marriage is in trouble right now:

  • The marriage rate — the number of people getting married, as a portion of the population — continues to fall.
  • The percentage of the population that is married continues to go down — soon, fewer than half the women in America will be married (as opposed to almost two-thirds in 1960).
  • The number of couples who are choosing to cohabit without marriage continues to rise.
  • The number of children born out of wedlock is still going up — it will be over 40% soon, and is a catastrophic 77% among African-Americans.
  • While the divorce rate has gone down in recent years, it remains true that about 40% of marriages don’t last.
  • All of these measures of marital health are even worse among low-income people and African Americans.
  • By all measures, marriage is in a crisis right now, and one would think that our political leaders would see the problem and want to address it.  The Department of Health and Human Services actually has a pretty good program called the “Healthy Marriage Initiative“.  But that’s not good enough — has anyone even heard of it?

    In fact, think about this.  When’s the last time you heard any significant public official say that we need to start looking at our public policies — taxes, health care, etc. — to see how they impact marriages?  When’s the last time you heard a political leader say that we need to promote marriage?  Did you read the President’s proclamation last fall for “National Family Day“?  The word “marriage” wasn’t even mentioned.

    This is a crisis that needs to be addressed by our own Church, too.  The Bishops of the United States have issues a pastoral letter on marriage, and have set out on a National Pastoral Initiative on Marriage, which is producing excellent resources for couples and those helping to serve them.  Here in the Archdiocese, Cardinal Egan and our priests were very supportive of our efforts in the Family Life Office to enhance our marriage preparation and natural family planning programs.  It is very encouraging that Archbishop Dolan has put such a strong emphasis on marriage as a pastoral priority, calling the state of marriage a “real vocation crisis”.  The promotion of marriage will require a wide effort by all our Church institutions.

    Let’s be honest — the state of our most important union is troubled.  We have to redouble our efforts to support and promote marriage.

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