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Go Figure 

Prop. 22's Christian backers know a thing or two about failed marriages

Wednesday, Mar 1 2000
As the battle over the legal definition of marriage builds to a crescendo, a recently released research study adds an ironic twist to the controversy.

Californians will go to the polls March 7 to vote on Proposition 22, the Knight Initiative, which would prevent the state from recognizing same-sex marriage. Calling the issue a "defense of traditional marriage," conservative religious organizations including The Christian Coalition and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church) have championed the measure led by Southern California Republican Pete Knight.

Supporters of the Knight Initiative argue, among other things, that same-sex marriages are likely to be highly unstable, and therefore bad for society as a whole. Many proponents also believe that, if same-sex couples were allowed to marry, they would have a high divorce rate.

Now, along comes a study that indicates a significant demographic of the folks who would like to prohibit same-sex marriage aren't so good at marriage themselves. The Barna Research Group Ltd., a Ventura company that provides information and analysis on cultural trends in the Christian Church, recently released a study on divorce among Christians.

Specifically, Barna's research found that born-again Christians were more likely to go through a marital split than non-Christians. The study included nationwide interviews with 4,000 adults during the past few years, and had a margin of error of 2 percentage points. The results showed that 27 percent of born-again Christians divorce, compared with 24 percent (statistically significant given the large sample) among adults who are not born-again. Further, according to Barna research director David Kinnaman, nine out of 10 divorced born-again Christians went through their split-up after they accepted Jesus Christ.

Baptists have the highest likelihood of divorce, the study found, at 29 percent, with Catholics and Lutherans among the lowest numbers of divorced adults, at 21 percent.

Mormons, among the strongest proponents of limiting marriage to that between a man and woman in the name of family stability, have a divorce rate about equal to that of the national average at 24 percent, according to the Barna study.

"The ultimate responsibility for a marriage belongs to the husband and wife, but the high incidence of divorce within the Christian community challenges the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriages," Barna President George Barna said in a prepared statement.

On the flip side, there is no similar research of same-sex couples' stability, mostly because their marriage remains illegal throughout the United States. However, a study of the proposed Knight Initiative by Stanford law professor Michael Wald last year cited two studies that both showed high percentages of same-sex couples cohabitating in long-term relationships.

The more recent of the two studies Wald cited, published by the Journal of Marriage and the Family, showed that 86 percent of the male couples and 84 percent of the female couples in the survey remained together longer than five years.

Using that study and other evidence, Wald reported that "despite the barriers and the stresses created by legal and cultural norms, it is clear that large numbers of gay men and lesbian women have entered into stable, long-term partnerships."

In conclusion, Wald said, "California family policy favors helping couples establish and remain in a permanent relationship through which they provide each other with emotional and financial support. It seeks to encourage child rearing in two parent units, with each parent having a legal relationship to the child."

Nearly four out of every 10 California marriages end in divorce. The highly divorced, it seems, are among those fighting for an exclusive right to marry.

About The Author

Lisa Davis


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