It wasn’t broken — but we fixed it.

First marriage was a sacrament, then it became a contract, and now it has become an option.

I wish I could say that’s my original formulation, but it’s not; I read it somewhere, probably in First Things, but can’t give an exact source citation.

Sharon wrote, in an article on the continuing to expand bastardy illegitimacy rate:

I’ve seen a lot more 20-somethings who haven’t equated having children with marriage. It’s like they think the marriage thing is optional, not even optimal. This may be a consequence of the high divorce rate in this country, which might cause young adults to be more jaded about marriage. But mainly what I see is that they just don’t think getting married before having kids is a big deal, and if you ask them, they think you must be old-fashioned.

Well, then I came upon the story below in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer:

    More and more, French go about life without marrying
    By Molly Moore, Washington Post

    PARIS – Sandrine Folet and Lucas Titouh have two children, a stylish Paris apartment, and a 15-year-old partnership.

    They have no intention of getting married.

    “We don’t feel the need to get married,” said Folet, 36, who has known Titouh, 40, since she was a teenager. “I don’t know many people in our age group who are married.”

    In France, the country that evokes more images of romance than perhaps any other, marriage has increasingly fallen out of favor. Growing numbers of couples are choosing to raise children, buy homes, and build family lives without religious or civil approval of their partnerships. In the past generation, the French marriage rate has plunged more than 30 percent, even as population and birthrates have been rising.

    “Marriage doesn’t have the same importance as it used to,” said France Prioux, who directs research on changing social trends for France’s National Institute of Demographic Studies. “It will never become as frequent as it once was.”

    Marriage is in decline across much of northern Europe, from Scandinavia to France, a pattern that some sociologists describe as a “soft revolution” in European society – a generational shift away from Old World traditions and institutions toward a greater emphasis on personal independence.

    But French couples are abandoning the formality of marriage faster than most of their European neighbors and far more rapidly than their American counterparts: French marriage rates are 45 percent below U.S. figures.

I have to wonder about the arrogance of people who think that they’re smarter than God. But, without even bringing God into the argument, since so many of our liberal friends will tune that out, it is also the case that every human society since recorded history began has had some form of marriage and formalized family relationships. Are we also wiser than all of our history? Have we become so intelligent and so educated that we took what worked well for all of our history, and fixed it?

    In 2004, the most recent year for which figures are available, the marriage rate in France was 4.3 per 1,000 people, compared with 5.1 in the United Kingdom and 7.8 in the United States. The only European countries with rates lower than France’s were Belgium, at 4.1, and Slovenia, with 3.3.

    The trend in France is driven by a convergence of social transitions in both the demographic and cultural landscapes, including this generation’s nearly universal estrangement from religion, especially the Catholic Church; migration to urban areas, where young adults are more independent from their families; and a society that has become not only tolerant but supportive of personal choice in lifestyles.

    The increase in out-of-wedlock birthrates is even more dramatic: Last year, 59 percent of all first-born French children were born to unwed parents, most by choice, not chance. The numbers were driven not by single mothers, teenage mothers or poor mothers, but rather by couples from all social and economic backgrounds who chose parenthood without marriage.

It seems to me that the “personal choice in lifestyles” says far more about our senses of community and responsibility than anything else: it’s all about me, me, me, me, me!

In a way, it’s curious. The political conservatives are the ones who look least favorably upon the changing public morés (although my liberal friends will certainly point out here that there are plenty of conservatives who are hypocritical on the subject, saying one thing and doing another), and the conservatives are the ones who are more likely to champion individual rights over social responsibilities; our liberal friends, who are far more willing to stick their hands into everyone’s pocket to extract money for social responsibilities are also the ones who would be more in approval of people accepting the “option” of marrying, or not, family responsibilities be damned.

Sharon noted statistics which indicated that about 20% of all new mothers under 20 were unmarried but living with the father at the time of the birth; that was the way the source she cited put the statistic. Sharon quickly spotted the other side: that statistic means that 80% of all new mothers under 20 were not living with the fathers of their children. The numbers were even worse for new mothers in the 20 to 24 year age bracket; they have fathers present for their children a whopping 13% of the time.

The trouble with thinking about me, me, me, me, me is that people are forgetting about we, we, we, we, we. The oh-so-liberated woman who doesn’t need a man around to have and rear children is rearing children who grow up without a father. For as long as we have recorded history, we knew that having fathers was every bit as important to the rearing of children as having mothers — until, we, in our enlightened wisdom, took something that served us well for thousands of years, took something that wasn’t broken, and fixed it.