Secular story, sacred vows?

My wife, Tamie, and I lived together for 15 years and brought three precious babies into the world before we finally went to the county courthouse and got our marriage license in 2005. Since our local newspaper publishes the names and addresses of those granted licenses, we were a bit concerned about the scandal our late nuptials might create at church.

To anyone who asked, we shared our funny -- and true -- story.

That is, we exchanged our wedding vows in my wife's hometown church in 1990. A preacher pronounced us husband and wife. It's just that I graduated from college the day before our wedding, and we ran out of time to get blood tests and complete the official government paperwork before we said "I do." Then we left on our honeymoon. And, well, we just never needed a marriage license until 2005, when it became important for a reason that escapes me now.

Despite our lack of a license, my wife and I -- both raised in Churches of Christ -- saw our marriage as a sacred commitment, as did our families. Not for a second did we consider living together out of wedlock. To say that religion played a key role in our view of marriage would be a huge understatement.

Which leads me to the news making headlines today:

WASHINGTON -- Is marriage becoming obsolete?

As families gather for Thanksgiving this year, nearly one in three American children is living with a parent who is divorced, separated or never-married. More people are accepting the view that wedding bells aren't needed to have a family.

A study by the Pew Research Center, in association with Time magazine, highlights rapidly changing notions of the American family. And the Census Bureau, too, is planning to incorporate broader definitions of family when measuring poverty, a shift caused partly by recent jumps in unmarried couples living together.

This is an important story with a strong religion angle. Except that neither The Associated Press report linked above nor a more in-depth Time magazine piece contains any religion component except for one fly-by use of the term "spiritual" by Time. This, friends, is what we at GetReligion refer to as a religion ghost.

Certainly, religion isn't the only element of the marriage issue. As the Pew Research Center report itself makes clear, several major factors influence this trend: Education level. Income. Race. Generation. Political affiliation. But the role of religion in such matters should not be ignored, as we have said before. And before.

The Pew report notes:

Adults who attend religious services weekly or more often are much more resistant to the newer arrangements than are those who attend religious services less often or never. For example, among those who attend religious services at least once a week, 72% believe a child needs both a mother and a father to grow up happily. This compares with 62% of those who attend religious services monthly or a few times a year and 44% of those who seldom or never attend.

While a strong majority of the public favors a modern marriage where the husband and wife both have jobs and both take care of the household and children, many regular church attendees still favor a more traditional marriage. Among those who attend religious services once a week or more often, 42% say a marriage where the husband provides for the family and the wife takes care of the home and children is the more satisfying way of life. This compares with 25% of those who attend religious services occasionally and 20% who seldom or never attend.

It follows that those who attend religious services most often are among the most resistant to the growing variety of family arrangements. Nearly half (45%) of those who attend religious services weekly say the new family arrangements are a bad thing. Only one-in-five (19%) of those who attend religious services less frequently share that opinion.

Of course, much of the religious world has done a much better job talking marriage than actually facilitating healthy marriages. Just last summer, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution concerning the "scandal of divorce" in its ranks. When I served as religion editor of The Oklahoman, I did a series focused on the Bible Belt state's effort to improve its No. 2-in-the-nation divorce ranking. Trust me, there are some juicy marriage/religion stories out there for reporters who go searching for them.

Dear Godbeat journalists, do you commit to explore the religion issues and ramifications of this significant Pew study?

Just two words, please.

"I do."

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