Toronto Sun

August 5, 2002

Till divorce do us part

Here are the real threats to the family and marriage


Gay marriage is back in the headlines these days (did it ever really go away?) My two cents: if two people want to make a lifetime commitment to support and care for each other (so the taxpayer doesn't have too), why stand in the way?

But lots of people, including many in the federal government, don't see it that way.

The federal government has now decided to appeal an Ontario Superior Court ruling that said it's discriminatory and unconstitutional for governments to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying. The court gave the feds and the province two years to rewrite marriage legislation.

There seem to be two main objections to gay marriage: financial and emotional. Where will we find the money to, say, grant pensions or other public benefits to same-sex partners? And is a gay marriage the same as straight marriage, morally and ethically speaking?

Those who say no to the latter tend to be from religious communities like the one I live and work in. And the argument I most often hear in my circle (evangelical Protestant) is that gay marriage somehow undermines or threatens the family unit (by which is usually meant two parents with biological kids).

That argument has always mystified me, given that I personally know many family units and marriages which have failed, and only one had anything to do with homosexuality. The other failures had to do with problems between the heterosexual partners in the relationship.

So, in the interest of cleaning up the dysfunctions in our own backyard before we go condemning people who aren't like us, here's a straight, married-with-children woman's take on the biggest threats to the family (and it ain't Adam and Steve or Anna and Eve).

No statistics on causes of divorce are kept. But a survey of divorce lawyers who are members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, found these to be the most common reasons:

  • Poor communication.

  • Financial problems.

  • A lack of commitment to the marriage.

  • A dramatic change in priorities.

  • Infidelity.

    Close behind are:

  • Failed expectations or unmet needs.

  • Addictions and substance abuse.

  • Physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

  • Lack of conflict resolution skills.

    These obviously cover a multitude of issues (lack of commitment? No kidding), But I don't see "neighbours who are gay" on the list.

    Think your marriage might be at risk? (Or wonder whether your present partner is the one to marry?) Here are some predictors of a doomed marriage, courtesy of Jeffry Larson, professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University in Utah, and author of Should We Stay Together?

  • Individuals who are, among other things, neurotic, anxious, depressed, impulsive, angry or vulnerable to stress are more likely to divorce than those who are flexible, assertive, sociable and have high self-esteem.

  • Couples who have little in common, had a short courtship, have poor communication and conflict resolution skills, or lived, had sex or had a child together before marriage, are more likely to divorce than those who didn't.

  • In addition, if you married young, had parents who split up, don't have family and peer support for your relationship and have little education or career preparation, your chances of divorce go up.

    In Ontario the grounds for divorce are simpler: a one year separation; adultery; or mental and physical cruelty. And forget the seven year itch. According to Statistics Canada data for 1998, the fifth year has the highest divorce rate. If you make it past that, the next trouble spot is at 13 years, the average length of marriages in Canada.

    If you recognize aspects of your relationship in the lists above, your union could be in trouble. (And if you haven't yet made a marital commitment, don't.)

    But whether the boys next door can get a marriage license has nothing to do with it.

    Marianne Meed Ward, a freelance writer with an interest in social and ethical issues, appears Mondays. Her e-mail

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    Copyright © 2002, Canoe, a division of Netgraphe Inc.