When asked about the significance of her daughter, Chelsea, marrying Marc Mezvinsky, who is Jewish, and thus being married in an interfaith union, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded, “Over the years, so many of the barriers that prevented people from getting married, crossing lines of faith or color or ethnicity have just disappeared.”
True, the barriers have disappeared, but serious difficulties remain.
While some scholars argue that mixed-faith unions “serve as a refiner’s fire” that make the relationships stronger, the statistical evidence indicates this is all too frequently not the outcome. The American Religious Identification Survey of 2001 noted that mixed marriages are three times more likely to end in divorce or separation than same-religion marriages. According to Tina Molly Lang in Associated Content, studies of marriages between Jews and Christians indicate that they face even higher risks, with a greater than 40 percent chance of divorce within five years. Even so, estimates are that up to 50 percent of those in the Jewish faith intermarry, which is viewed as a grave threat by many in the Jewish community who watch the continual shrinkage of their numbers with dismay. Catholic research indicates increases in interfaith marriages among those of the Catholic faith as well.
Observers have noted that both Clinton and Mezvinsky were raised in homes where religious faith was central to family life and questioned whether one or the other would convert and how they would reconcile the practice of their different faiths.
While intermarriage indicates a “high degree of assimilation and tolerance,” it also means “the declining role of faith and religious identity in the minds of many young Americans,” according to Allan Schwartz, in the “Emotional Challenges of Interfaith Marriage.” In her classic book, The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts, Judith Wallerstein reports that couples set the stage for conflict, bitterness, and misunderstanding as they make the emotional and psychological separation from their families’ religious heritage. Problems begin as early as the planning of the wedding ceremony, where different traditions are in conflict, especially when certain symbols of faith “evoke powerful emotional responses.”