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Interfaith Divorce Revisited

Interfaith Divorce Revisited

For a combination of reasons, I’ve been slow to respond to this weekend’s article in the Washington Post about high divorce rates in interfaith marriages.

I’ve been swamped with other projects, and I didn’t want to just bang something out without first having a chance to think about it. (Yes, what kind of blogger am I?)

Plus, after two recent columns and various blog posts about divorce and the Joseph Reyes-Rebecca Shapiro Reyes case (a topic the Washington Post article leads with), I was feeling a little divorced out.

I might as well also admit that I feel a bit awkward about criticizing author Naomi Schaefer Riley since I have met her and written articles for the “Houses of Worship” column she edits for the Wall Street Journal.

Since my math skills petered out sometime in 10th grade and calculating divorce rates sends my brain into a tizzy, I will not weigh in on the accuracy of the argument that interfaith marriages (all, not just Jewish ones) are more likely to fail than endogamous ones. However, it is worth noting that elsewhere on the blogosphere, people are questioning the data the article relies on and accusing the piece of making generalizations based on thin evidence.

Assuming that divorce rates are, in fact, higher for interfaith marriages, it’s important to recognize two things, however:

1) One obvious factor in the disparity between interfaith and intra-faith marriages is that the people who marry within their own faith at the highest rates, like Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians, tend to be more traditional in many ways and thus less likely to divorce. So this may be more a correlative than a causal relationship.

2) Just because divorce rates for interfaith couples have been higher in the past, does not mean we can assume that this will be true in the future. Or that, as Schaefer-Riley writes, because interfaith marriage rates are rising, "conflicts such as the between Reyes and Shapiro will probably become more common." As she acknowledges in the article, interfaith marriages are more widely accepted today than in the past, thus removing some of the stressors those marriages used to encounter, like communal ostracism, hostility from extended family etc.

That said, I’m the first to admit that, all things being equal, interfaith marriages are more challenging than endogamous ones, and that when they end in divorce are at far greater risk of getting ugly. (Although the fact that the Reyes-Shapiro case got as much media attention as it did indicates to me that it’s very much the exception, rather than the rule, and that most couples figure out more amicable ways to resolve their differences.)

However, I’m not sure what good it does to focus on this issue, or what conclusions we can draw from it. Should interfaith marriage be discouraged as a result? As we all know, you can discourage it until you’re blue in the face, but in the absence of legal constraints, like our nation’s many lovely old anti-miscegenation laws, people will do what they want to do.

I’d love to see all couples fully communicate their expectations and desires before marrying and having kids, but even this isn’t a foolproof solution, since people change and it’s difficult to know how we will feel once we actually have children. It’s also important to remember that, ultimately, people are quirky, data is rarely destiny, relationships require work, and no marriage, whether endogamous or interfaith (or between Al and Tipper) is guaranteed to last.

And now, no more divorce talk at least until the summer wedding season is over!

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