- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2008

I recently wrote about the issue of teen marriage in light of the brouhaha over Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter Bristol, who is pregnant and planning to marry the baby’s 18-year-old father.

In my round of interviews exploring the pros and cons of marrying young, I got quite a lengthy response from Pastor Mark Gungor about the foolishness of advocating “delayed matrimony” for all.

Certainly, people should take time to find a mate they feel connected to and compatible with, says Mr. Gungor, author of “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage,” published this year.

“That being said, I think finding someone to journey with in marriage is the slenderest part of a life-long relational journey,” he writes. “A great marriage is mostly about two people committing to each other and then employing principles such as love, acceptance, patience, forgiveness, sacrifice and unselfishness, to enrich that committed relationship.”

In an e-mail conversation with me, Mr. Gungor makes a case for marrying young with the following observations:

• “Some of the most successful marriages in the world started with two teenagers. Indeed, it is difficult to reach 75 years of marriage if one waits till he is 30 to say ‘I do’ - you’re pretty much dead by then.”

• “Even biology challenges us to rethink delayed marriage. According to U.S. researchers who analyzed census data and information from genealogical records, children born when their mothers were under 25 were almost twice as likely to live to their 100th birthday and beyond, and University of Chicago husband-and-wife team Dr. Leonid Gavrilov and Dr. Natalia Gavrilova have shown that first-born children live longer than their younger siblings. It appears the two are linked, with older children living longer because their mothers are younger when they have them.”

• “Studies have also shown that it takes longer for older men to conceive. Starting in their 20s, men face steadily increasing chances of infertility. … ‘We [now] know the probability for certain types of DNA damage goes up with age, and we can give you a mathematical probability,’ said Andrew Wyrobek,” a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

• “‘The traditional markers of manhood - leaving home, getting an education, starting a family and starting work - have moved downfield as the passage from adolescence to adulthood has evolved,’ says Michael Kimmel, author of ‘Guyland.’ For instance, in 1960, almost 70 percent of men had reached these milestones by the age of 30; today, less than a third of males can say the same.”

• “We know that sexual activity before marriage increases the likelihood of a divorce. We also know that couples who live together also have an even higher rate of divorce. But then we tell young people today that they should wait till they are almost 30 to marry - an age that will most likely guarantee they will have been already sexually active or even living with someone.”

• “Mormons bring an interesting perspective to marriage. Only 6 percent of those who follow the demands surrounding a temple marriage end up in divorce. … Leaders claim it’s that the church requires the candidates for marriage to be people of character - people who stick to their commitments of love and of asking for help if they need it. What is so striking is that many of these marriages happen between couples still in their teens!”

• “Those who delay marriage (and subsequently child-rearing) are denying themselves one of the greatest joys men and women have cherished for millennia - to participate in the lives of their grandchildren.”

• “No matter what the statisticians say, marriages do not fail because of age, money or education. … Marriages fail for one reason and one reason only - one or both people become selfish. To imply that young, poor or high-school graduates are incapable of real commitment is an insult. I find it curious that we have young, poor high-school graduates fighting for our interests overseas with great commitment - some giving the very last measure of commitment by sacrificing their very lives for their fellow soldiers.”

• “Someday historians will write of the end of Western civilization. I am sure that our propensity for selfishness and narcissistic behaviors is what they will point to as the reason for our demise. Advocating for delayed marriage will be just one more reason we will succeed in destroying ourselves from within.”

• E-mail cwetzstein@ washingtontimes.com.