So what about the churches? I wish I could say that these trends in western society are merely secular trends, that the churches are unaffected by them; but we all know that isn’t true. In our churches too, the idea of marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others, is not universally held.
What about family stability? There is some data from the US to suggest that divorce rates among evangelical Christians are not lower than the rest of the population. However, more finely grained research shows that if both members of the couple are committed to the faith and pray together, marital satisfaction is very much higher and divorce rates much lower.
Family stability and faith
Still, we cannot be at all complacent. I will return to this in the third lecture; but to foreshadow what I will be saying there, I believe it is essential that as church leaders, we work to re-evangelise the flock, to persuade Christians afresh of the wisdom of Christian teaching on sex, ily life more generally. We need to support safe, stable and nurturing families in the society as a whole; but on this issue, the effort must first be to strengthen family life within the community of faith.
We are living in a society which has almost completely abandoned Christian teaching on marriage. None of the elements of marriage as understood in Christendom, and as defined at common law, now survive. The notions of permanence and exclusivity were abandoned 45 years ago. Marriage still involves a legal union, to be sure, but the same legal effects follow without a legal union, at least once a couple have lived together for two years. And of course, it is no longer necessary that marriage be the union of a man and a woman.
Australian society, like other western societies, is charting its own course with a rather confused idea about what marriage is and why it is that de facto relationships should be treated as equivalent to marriages. While these changes, which began with the sexual revolution in the 1960s, are typically presented as a liberation, we are now experiencing the downsides. The consequences of family instability are enormous; but particularly so for children.
The challenge for public policy is to work out how better to support children with safe, stable and nurturing families. Notwithstanding all the other problems that are important and which attract attention, such as climate change and racial injustice, the problem of family instability is one of the greatest challenges of our time.
Professor Patrick Parkinson AM is the Academic Dean and Head of School for the TC Beirne School of Law at the University of Queensland. The views expressed in this lecture are, of course, just personal opinions.
1 D de Vaus and M Gray, ‘The Changing Living Arrangements of Children, 1946-2001′ (2004) 10 Journal of Family Studies 9-19, 15.
4 P Butterworth, T Oz, B Rodgers and H Berry, Factors Associated with Relationship Dissolution of Australian Families with Children, Social Policy Research Paper No 37 (Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, 2008) p.29, tbl 9.
5 H Benson, ‘Introduction’ in H Benson and S Callan (eds), What Works in Relationship Education: Lessons from academics and service deliverers in the United States and Europe (Doha International Institute for Family Studies and Development, 2009) 11-20.
6 In addition, a very small number of children are born to female same-sex couples, using donated semen. There are also a few same-sex male couples with children through surrogacy, fostering or adoption. However, the numbers are so low that they do not affect the analysis of trends across the population described herein. Many children living with same-sex couples were born into heterosexual partnerships that ended in separation or divorce.
We must never confuse the ideal of marriage with the facts on the ground, the warts and all experience of family life across society and down through the generations. Christian teaching has long emphasised that we are sinful people in need of a Saviour, that we are capable of great evil, as well as great good. If you try to go through life under the illusion that people are basically good you will experience endless disappointment and betrayal.
Yet there is also great wisdom in it, as in all the teaching of Jesus. Saving sex till marriage marks out the exclusivity of that sexual union. You have an intimate bond with one person that you have had with no-one else and promise not to have with anyone else, at least until death brings that relationship to an end.
No-fault divorce ended that, and perhaps rightly so because the law was an imperfect instrument for enforcing the idea of marriage as a lifelong union; but it left marriage for life as no more than an internal commitment, a promise that people make to one another which is wholly unenforceable. One person can leave a marriage without the agreement of the other. It takes two to make a marriage, but only one to break it.
Alternatively, if they just want something secular, they could purchase the services of hipervГnculo crГtica a private marriage celebrant who may be able to conduct the wedding, perhaps in some special location. Or they could marry in a registry office. Alex finds the website for the Victorian Marriage Registry which promises ‘elegant civil marriage ceremonies on weekdays and weekends for couples seeking an intimate and simple wedding’ in an old heritage-listed building in the city.
Now it may be that some have simply delayed for the country as a whole. Queensland data indicates that there were 1031 same-sex weddings in Queensland in 2019. That compares with 1292 couples in 2018. Only 174 same-sex couples have wed in the first quarter of 2020, before the pandemic shutdown, indicating that the stream of same-sex marriages is slowing very considerably. That is less than 4.5% of all weddings in that quarter.
Why is this? The problem is not the rate of divorce. That has remained stable or declined over the last couple of decades. There were 2.7 divorces per 1,000 people in 1998 compared with 2.0 divorces per 1,000 people in 2018. A reason for that is a decline in marriage rates. A decline in marriages per 1000 population is likely to mean a decline in divorces a decade or so later.
The researchers found that the increase occurred steadily and irrespective of economic crests and troughs. The researchers found that the divorce rate was positively and significantly correlated with scores on all of the clinical scales.