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Once upon a time, the solution to the problem was clear--a wedding was quickly planned and the baby arrived a little early. Everyone could count to nine, and did, but a few years and a few kids, and it wasn't everyone's favorite gossip anymore. However as divorce became more common, especially among the young and those married under pressure, waiting until the baby arrived to make decisions became more common. As I read somewhere regarding teen pregnancy "Marriage is a permanent solution to a temporary problem". I used to agree with that thought, now I am not so sure.
My regular readers know I am Catholic. Most people know that the Catholic church does not recognize divorce. Most people also know divorced Catholics. Most people have heard of Catholic annulments, even if they don't really understand them. Without going into a treatise on Canon Law, the short story on annulments is that the Catholic church has certain criteria that must be met in order for a marriage to be valid. While marriages that are properly performed are presumed to be valid, if a person does not wish to be married to his/her spouse, after a civil divorce, s/he can ask the Church to study his/her marriage to determine whether it met the criteria for a valid marriage, and, if it did not, to declare it null. One of the criteria is free consent. If you put a gun to my head and make me say marriage vows, it isn't valid because I didn't freely consent. The Catholic church makes quickie marriages difficult to impossible these days; in part to avoid confecting marriages that are invalid due to defects in consent or lack of maturity in the spouses. Basically it seems that the thought is that if the kids don't get married in the first place, you don't have to worry about them getting divorced down the line.
As I said earlier, I used to think that was a good approach. However, in the last few years I've begun to wonder. I don't think we should put inordinate pressure on these kids to get married, particularly if they don't like each other anymore. However, I know of several young couples who got pregnant. They loved each other and stuck together throughout the pregnancy. They moved in together and have made a home for themselves and their baby. I daresay they slept together. One couple married outside the Church before the baby was born, one got married in the Church when the baby was four years old; a third just had their baby and hasn't decided whether they will marry or not. Once upon a time any parish priest would have tried to get these couples to the altar as soon as possible; now avoiding the long-term problem of divorce is seen as more important than encouraging these kids to establish a stable family into which to bring that child. I just wonder whether our efforts to protect the sanctity of marriage have helped contribute to a culture that increasingly sees marriage as an optional, rather than ideal state, even when children are involved.
What do you think? Should young pregnant couples be encourage to marry, or encouraged to wait until after the baby?