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The hard work of protecting marriage

Amendment push wastes energy at expense of real issues

Few readers would disagree with the headline that began, “Traditional marriage worth upholding” (Dec. 22). It led us to an essay on behalf of an area clergy group. But we were misled. The actual focus was advocacy for a constitutional amendment to prohibit marriage between same-sex couples – already illegal in Indiana – and containing wording with potentially far-reaching consequences beyond marriage law.

I wonder how and why this legislation will save marriage.

Most obviously, and first, it can’t save marriage because it is aimed at the wrong population group. Most scholarly studies indicate that 4 percent to 10 percent of the population is gay. Some recent research pegs the number at 2 percent of the population. Is a constitutional amendment necessary for such a small percentage of the population and of which only a portion of whom would marry? And besides, Indiana already has a law defining marriage.

HJR 6 won’t save marriage because while enormous energy is put into preparing couples for wedlock, marriages fail at alarming rates for reasons that have nothing to do with the proposed amendment. The best known estimate is that up to 50 percent of first marriages and 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce. Pastors and church staff routinely require several sessions with couples. A variety of tools have been used for marriage prep: standardized testing, retreats, mentoring by long-married couples, meetings with marriage counselors, discussion groups and much more.

Rather than focusing on HJR 6’s questionable merits, energy must focus on those places where change could affect marriages. For example, people who marry later and with some college education have a better chance at staying married. Preserve marriage by advocating for better education at all levels and for educational fees that keep pace with (and not race ahead of) inflation. People with enough income to not be stressed over making ends meet also tend to stay married longer. Protect marriage by being an advocate for a significantly increased minimum wage, a wage level that provides enough income so spouses don’t have to work two jobs. Uphold marriage by being outspoken for adequate, reasonably priced and accessible health care for all Hoosiers. Enhance the status of marriage by challenging the popular wisdom that cohabitation is appropriate preparation for marriage. It isn’t. Require more preparation time for those couples who are in their teens and wish to marry, for the divorce rate is very high for this age group.

Work to protect marriage by demanding that current Indiana marriage law be revisited. For all the good that no-fault divorce provides, it is clearly not the best solution. Indiana laws on marriage ought to be revisited – not to shame people or make a divorce petition impossible, but to make it possible for married people to understand the consequences of infidelity and divorce. In this area, the pastoral skills of clergy would be essential just as legislators would benefit from listening to the experiences of those living with infidelity and divorce.

There are people of good will who believe in their hearts that same-sex unions are wrong. Personally, I don’t think that is why Indiana citizens are facing a potential fight that could cost citizens as much as $20 million in the long run. As economy-minded as Hoosiers are, they would be shocked at that cost estimate and immediately look for another solution. The majority of people usually trust that good dwells in the hearts of others. They may not like some things people do, but they accept diversity in human life.

So why this bill, this time? Simply put, it is easier to fire up citizens about an issue such as same-sex unions than it is to generate interest in providing adequate health care, adjust minimum wage laws, attend to genuine education needs and see that education can be afforded by every citizen. It is easier to seduce idealistic clergy and others into carrying water for this project than to put laws needing review under bipartisan and enlightened review. Fanning the fears of citizens is easier than educating citizens. Advocacy for a community of safe homes and neighborhoods, provision of food and shelter for the poor, and care for the mentally ill are not glamorous or easy but truly are the work of God.

The Rev. Robert Zahrt is an associate pastor with St. Mary Magdala Chapel and Spiritual Center in Fort Wayne. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

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