I Now Pronounce You Husband and Wife
Oh boy. There is a doozy of an op-ed in my regional newspaper this morning, entitled “I Now Pronounce You Husband and Wife,” by local journalist Mary Wernke (near Alliance).
She encourages people to write her back with their experiences (and provides her E-mail address in the article, so have at it, folks). There is also a poll questioning whether one should be able to obtain officiant credentials through the Internet (heavily leaning toward “no” at this time).
She constructed an (unstated) syllogism with faulty premises.
Premise 1: Divorce rates are climbing in Nebraska.
Premise 2: State law makes it easy to marry.
Premise 3: State law permits any religious organisation to issue credentials.
Premise 4: Rigorous theological training improves marital survival odds.
Conclusion: State law should be tightened over religious officiant credentials to lower the divorce rate.
Premises 1 and 4 are false. The conclusion violates the Constitution.
She first makes an assertion, that divorce rates in Nebraska are going up, citing the ease of obtaining a marriage in Nebraska relative to other states (and gives the criteria for a marriage license).
The thrust of her assertion though, is that the relative ease of obtaining Internet credentials to officiate weddings (specifically citing the Universal Life Church), as opposed to rigorous theological training, is the cause of increasing divorce rates. I understood her implication to mean the state should tighten up religious officiant standards (thus violating the I Amendment, since the government would be picking winners and losers amongst religious adherents).
Aside from her own goal in the paragraph where she asserts divorce rates are climbing (citing statistics showing they are falling then using a red herring to deflect from that), she constructs a faulty syllogism, and fails at civics (particularly the I Amendment in her conclusion). The gist is those who are “ordained” (her scare quotes) are contributing to higher divorce rates (ignoring the statistics she cited along with many other factors that contribute to higher divorce rates, such as education, longer life, economics, &c).
A survey conducted in 1999 by the Barna Research Organization (an Evangelical polling outfit) to sort divorce rates by religious faith found that “non-denominational Christians” (generally extremely conservative and fundamentalist) followed by Baptists had the highest divorce rates. Amongst the lowest: Atheists.
Presumably the overwhelming majority of atheists would not seek officiants with extensive theological or seminary backgrounds. (In point of fact, my wife and I were married in Colorado, where no officiant at all is required, just a witness to your signature on the marriage license.)
The Barna survey came under immediate attack (by church organisations): Some claimed a poor sample size consisting of “strangers” (the sample size was fine), others devolved to religious legalism (attacking the Barna survey’s definitions of such words as “Evangelical,” &c). The Southern Baptist Convention even claimed that amongst Baptists the “real” divorce rate is only one marriage in thirty thousand. Many Christian church organisations (regardless of stripe) claimed that the rate for atheists could not possibly be so low (essentially for the same reason Ms. Wernke attacked the ULC, that atheists have no theological foundation to their marriages).
Other churches claimed that there were no such surveys done by others, therefore one cannot make a comparison to see if this survey is an outlier or is accurate. (That ignores a Pew Research survey conducted in 2007 and 2014 that largely lines up with the Barna survey conducted, breaking down faiths into finer grains.)
So have at it, folks. She says in her article she wants to hear from people.