The rise of interfaith marriages

Cohen family
The Cohen family, Fred, center, and Judy, right rear, with daughters, Isabelle, left, and Olivia, sit in their living room decorated with a Christmas tree and a menorah in West Orange, N.J., Dec. 18, 2005. The Cohens are an interfaith couple, Christian and Jewish, and the family celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah.

Interfaith marriages have been steadily on the rise as more people are making religion less of a priority when considering nuptials, according to new research by David McClendon, a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas at Austin.

Historically when two faiths come together, one person in the partnership converts to the spouse's religion, but McClendon writes that "there has been an especially dramatic increase in the proportion of couples where both partners maintain their own separate religious beliefs and practices."

The proportion of marriages that remain interfaith jumped from 20 percent in the 1960s to around 40 percent by the first decade of this century.

"This suggests that traditional norms regarding religious homogamy — like marrying like — have been weakening and that acceptance of differing beliefs, even in the most intimate unions, has been growing," he writes.

On The Daily Circuit, we discuss the shift with two faith and marriage experts. Are we becoming more tolerant, or is religion playing less of a role in our relationships?

Are you in a mixed-faith relationship? What challenges has that presented to your relationship? Join the discussion in the comments below.


Married Interfaith Couples Who Keep Religious Traditions Separate on the Rise
As he notes, 80 percent of Americans age 18-23 (an all-time high) reject the idea that you need shared religious beliefs to have a successful marriage. But part of the trend might also be that Americans are less religious, and less observant, than they used to be. (Slate)

Religiously Mixed Couples: Cupid's Arrow Often Hits People of Different Faiths
Buddhists (55%) also are likely to be married or living with a partner with a religious background different from their own. In contrast, the individuals least likely to marry or live with a partner outside their faith include Hindus (only 10% are married to or live with someone of a different religion), Mormons (17%) and Catholics (22%). (Pew)

Interfaith Unions: A Mixed Blessing
Interfaith marriages often come with a heavy price. They are more likely than same-faith unions to be unhappy and, in some circumstances, to end in divorce. They also tend to diminish the strength of religious communities, as the devout are pulled away from bonds of tradition and orthodoxy by their nonmember spouses. (New York Times)

Making Marriage Work When Only One Spouse Believes In God
"These families are doing something different, and they're making their own choices," says Erika Seamon, who teaches religion at Georgetown University and studies interfaith relationships. She sees couples find common ground on love, ethics and even spirituality while maintaining very different religious identities. "What it's doing is it's mixing up, confusing and blurring these ideas of religion, and community and affiliation and ritual and faith," Seamon says. (NPR)

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