Today's MSN Lifestyle section has an article entitled Faith in Marriage: Is a common spiritual bond critical to marital health and happiness? By Carol Mithers. In the article, Ms. Mithers notes:
Faith -- belief in the judgment and authority of a higher power -- can have a powerful positive influence on the marital bond, research has shown. David Popenoe, PhD, professor of sociology at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and codirector of the National Marriage Project, sees being "answerable to a higher authority" as "vital" for a strong marriage. In part, faith has this power because belief in God often also means a belief that marriage itself is sacred. The conviction that, as Liz Hammer puts it, "this is a commitment we made before God, so divorce isn't an option" can give couples both emotional security and an incentive to keep their relationship strong.
Back in 1972, there was (according to the news) a collective sigh of shock and disbelief when CBS aired a program entitled "Bridget Loves Bernie" about "a rich Irish Catholic girl, Bridget Fitzgerald (Meredith Baxter-Birney) who falls in love with a working-class Jewish cabbie, Bernie Steinberg (David Birney). They marry despite their families' unease about a 'mixed marriage'." According to my recollection of the news accounts (how much of it was publicity generated, I don't know), people objected to the idea that a Roman Catholic girl could have a strong marriage if she married a Jewish boy. While I was a young kid at the time, I know that my family wasn't particularly upset about the show since I remember watching it -- especially an episode where they tried to decide how to deal with the celebration of Hanukkah and Christmas in a "mixed marriage."
Ultimately, if people objected by saying that people of different religions shouldn't be permitted to marry, they were thankfully overruled by a general acceptance of mixed religion marriages. I certainly have no problem with a man and woman of differing faiths marrying if they love each other and promise to respect each other. But saying that someone shouldn't be allowed to marry another person is different from saying that a person probably shouldn't marry another person if they want to maximize happiness.
Unlike skin color or ethnicity, where the differences between people run only skin deep, a person's religion is a vital part of his or her life. A religious belief that is truly embraced shapes the person's world view, and compromising that world view can be a compromise of the faith that he or she holds. Thus, it comes as no surprise that people who share the same strong devotion to the same strong religious belief appear to have the best chance of succeeding. It is much like that dating service that matches up the 20+ most important factors to a happy marriage -- if you are both religious in the same way, probably 10+ of those factors are already compatible.
Does that mean that people of differing religions ought not marry? Well, yes and no. The answer appears to be that if you want the best chance of staying married, you should marry someone who shares your worldview, which means that you want to marry someone who shares your religious views. That doesn't mean that you cannot have a successful marriage by marrying outside of your worldview; it simply means that it will be more difficult to do so. As stated in the article:
Religious beliefs not only influence our most basic convictions -- what happens after we die, what it means to live a virtuous life -- they also govern a host of daily choices, such as what to eat, how to raise children, even whether or not to use birth control. And "every layer of difference that exists between partners adds complexity to a marriage," says Joel Crohn, PhD, the San Rafael, California-based author of Mixed Matches (Ballantine, 1995).
Of course people can overcome these differences. They have done so and will continue to do so in the future. But such marriages can involve compromise.
Growing numbers of interfaith couples, with the help of support organizations, networks, therapists, and even clergy, are successfully fashioning marriages that incorporate faith, whether that means one partner converting, each remaining with his or her religion of origin, or both embracing a new, blended belief.
For people considering marrying outside of your faith, this article doesn't tell you that you shouldn't marry that way, but it does say that you should work out with your future spouse how you intend to deal with your religious differences. If your future spouse is expecting you to convert or you are expecting your future spouse to convert, you should both agree on that at the outset or it could make for a difficult time in your marriage. Given that marriage is already a difficult relationship, I simply counsel that if your faith is important to you, your decisions in this area should be one of the most important factors that work into your decision as to whether to get married.
Bridget loves Bernie? Yeah, but while they certainly have the right to get married, it may not be the wisest idea.