Civil unions haven’t become ‘marriage lite’

Responding to the clamor from gay couples to be allowed to marry, the French government in 1999 introduced civil unions, which mimic the legal privileges traditionally conferred by matrimony.

Responding to the clamor from gay couples to be allowed to marry, the French government in 1999 introduced civil unions, which mimic the legal privileges traditionally conferred by matrimony.

Unpredictably, civil unions have proved to be more attractive to heterosexual French couples than to the homosexuals for whom they were devised.

Scott Sayare and Maia de la Baume report in The New York Times that the overwhelming majority of civil unions join straight couples, who choose it over traditional marriage.

In France there are now two civil unions for every three marriages. Should a couple want to dissolve their civil union, it can be accomplished with just a registered letter.

Like traditional marriages, civil unions permit couples to file joint tax returns, share insurance policies, and make partners responsible for each other’s debts. Should the civil partners have children, their offspring enjoy the same government benefits as the children of married couples.

The popularity of civil unions reflects a widespread disenchantment with the Catholic Church. Sociologist Wilfried Rault of France’s National Institute for Demographic Studies told the Times that even non-church marriages in France are considered “heavy and invasive” by couples, deeply linked to Christianity.

The Roman Catholic Church in France initially regarded the civil unions as a threat to conventional marriage. But over time the National Confederation of Catholic Family Associations has come to admit that they pose no “real threat.”

Here in the United States, marriage has been in steady decline, while cohabitation has been rising, nearly doubling since 1990.

A recent survey by the Pew Foundation and Time Magazine reveals that 44 percent of all adult Americans and more than half of all adults ages 30 to 48 have cohabited at some point in their lives.

Fortunately, they do not regard living together to be a substitute for marriage but as a step toward marriage.

The Pew-Time survey also finds that four in 10 adult Americans think marriage is becoming obsolete. Still, two-thirds of American adults claim to be optimistic about the future of marriage and family.

A worrisome note: The survey finds that marriage has declined most dramatically among those Americans who abandoned their formal education during or following high school.

Nearly two-thirds of college-educated Americans are married, while fewer than half of those who never went to college are wed.

Marriages may not be made in heaven, but lasting marriages require mutual devotion and responsibility. There are no shortcuts to living happily ever after with another human being.

God is the third party to every union. Despite the danger of divorce there is nothing wrong with marriage and everything right with it.

What we need to fix are the expectations that couples bring to wedlock and the strength of their commitment.

David Yount is the author of 14 books, including Making a Success of Marriage (Rowman & Littlefield).