“Elder Hafen Addresses Family Congress,” Liahona, Oct. 2007, N3–N4
Elder Bruce C. Hafen of the Quorum of the Seventy addressed delegates from around the world on the importance of restoring the meaning of traditional marriage. His remarks were made at the World Congress of Families IV held in Warsaw, Poland, from May 11 to 13, 2007.
Over the world’s history there has been a “universal love story” where a boy and girl meet, fall in love, and then marry, Elder Hafen said. The bond of marriage does not just affect the couple singularly, but society as a whole has a great interest in the success of that relationship.
“That is why guests and friends have always celebrated weddings as community events,” Elder Hafen said. “Marriage has always been the crucial knot in the fabric that holds society together. Every marriage affects those in the concentric circles of influence that ripple outward from the couple, through their children to the larger community. …
“The community attends weddings not to pry into private affairs, but because of its enormous stake in the outcome and the offspring of each marriage. To marry is to make a public commitment that one accepts personal responsibility for one’s children and for their influence on the kind of community we create over time,” he explained.
These social and personal expectations make marriage the primary means of transmitting values from one generation to another, he said. Yet this crucial source of society’s long-term stability is declining.
More than 80 percent of Europeans and 46 percent of Americans agree it is acceptable for a couple to live together without the intent to marry, Elder Hafen said. In Scandinavia alone about 82 percent of firstborn children are born outside of wedlock—despite abundant research showing the psychological and other risks facing children with cohabiting parents. There are serious social consequences in these kinds of trends.
In addition, the divorce rate since 1960 in the United States—now the world’s most divorce-prone country—has more than doubled, which means that half of today’s marriages will end in divorce. The figure would be even higher if it included breakups among live-in couples, whose numbers have increased 760 percent in the United States since 1960.
“We can see the force of an anti-marriage revolution in those statistics showing skyrocketing unwed births, cohabitation, and divorces,” Elder Hafen said. “In the last 40 years many people … have stopped believing that marriage is a public, long-term social institution. … Modern society has ‘lost the plot’ of the universal love story.”
The decline of traditional marriage began during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Changes needed to be made in America’s racial and gender-based discrimination, Elder Hafen said. However, some extremists went much further and challenged laws and customs that supported family relationships. As the momentum of the “liberation” movement built, judges allowed claims of adult liberty to trump the best interests of children.
“I once saw a small boy standing all alone, looking lost and afraid,” Elder Hafen said. “He was wearing a big T-shirt bearing the slogan, ‘Leave me alone.’ He … illustrates the irony of allowing irresponsible adults to abandon children to their ‘right to be let alone’ in the name of liberating all the captives of a society [they say is] oppressed by family ties.”
Research also shows that the absence of married parents is the common denominator of many troubled youth, and compared to married couples, live-in couples are more likely to experience depression, alcohol and drug problems, infidelity, lower incomes, and unhappiness, as well as two or three times as much physical violence, explained Elder Hafen.
Elder Hafen also addressed the serious issue of same-gender marriage. Fifteen years ago no country in the world took same-gender marriage as seriously as it is taken now. Judicial opinions are supporting same-gender marriages based on notions of personal liberty and privacy, not the social value of the marriage, he said.
“The gay marriage debate thus asks a stark question: should marriage simply endorse a private adult choice, or is it an institution with the public purpose of advancing the interests of children and society as well as the couple’s interests?” Elder Hafen said.
Elder Hafen concluded by summarizing the four main social “goods” provided by traditional marriage: first, the needs and rights of children are more successfully met; second, civic virtues are taught and passed on to the next generation; third, parents decide what values children should learn; and fourth, the most stable expectations in personal relationships are made possible.
“My willingness to marry, like my willingness to have a child, tells my family and society that I am invested in these relationships for the long haul,” Elder Hafen said. “Then my wife and children may also invest themselves without wondering if their sacrifice is worth their effort.”