“I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being - neither white, black, brown, or red; and when you are dealing with humanity as one family, there’s no question of integration or intermarriage. It's just one human being marrying another human being or one human being living around and with another human being.” - Iconic civil liberties champion Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X
An interfaith marriage, also called a mixed marriage, is a religious or civil union between partners practicing different faiths and religions. While in a typical interfaith marriage, the partners are free to adhere to a religion of their choice or to even subscribe to no religion or remain an atheist, in practice most interfaith unions do involve conversion, assimilation, and ostracism.
In her book 'Til Faith Do Us Part, Ms Naomi Schaefer Riley takes a look at interfaith marriage trends in the U.S. and says they are more likely to end in divorce. Childbirth brings Americans back into the religious fold and children in mixed unions are twice as likely to be brought up in their mother’s religion as their father’s faith. Yet interfaith weddings are increasingly welcomed in most societies of the West. In other parts of the world, interfaith weddings lead to honor killings, religious violence, and much anguish for those involved.
The American Dream
In the U.S., interfaith marriages are celebrated as a part of progressive society. The Jewish populace of the country had undergone a complete intermingling towards the last decade of the 20th century. American Muslims have a much higher rate of interfaith marriage than Muslims elsewhere. According to an Opinion Page article in the New York Times, about 20% of the couples married in the U.S. before the 1960s were in interfaith unions. Between 2000 and 2010, 45% of couples married were between couples of different faiths, Catholic-Protestant unions, and between those who subscribe to a religion and those who didn’t.
In 2008, by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, found that people unaffiliated with any religion were most likely to have a spouse or partner with a different religion (65%). American Buddhists (55%) came next and were highly likely to be married or living with a partner with a religious background different from their own. People least likely to be married to a partner from a different faith were the Hindus (10%), Mormons (17%), and Catholics (22%).
In 2010, YouGov conducted a survey of 2,450 Americans in interfaith marriages. According to the survey, American Jews were the most likely to be in weddings between individuals of different faiths. Among the others, Mormons are the least likely to marry into a different faith. American Muslims were rated somewhere in the middle. The poll found that the older people were when they wed the more likely they were to marry outside the faith.
Interfaith Unions and Divorce
In “Interfaith Unions: A Mixed Blessing”, Naomi Schaefer Riley writes, “… interfaith marriages often come with a heavy price. They are more likely than same-faith unions to be unhappy and, in some circumstances, to end in divorce. They also tend to diminish the strength of religious communities, as the devout are pulled away from bonds of tradition and orthodoxy by their nonmember spouses”
In the course of her research, Ms. Schaefer Riley found that interfaith couples were less satisfied than same-faith couples. The more religiously active one or both of the spouses, the unhappier the marriage would be. According to 2010 statistics, over 50% of the marriages between evangelicals and non-evangelicals ended in divorce. The divorce rate was as high as 61% for evangelicals married to a spouse with no religion.
Mormons reported the highest levels of satisfaction in interfaith marriages. Most seemed confident that their spouses would eventually convert to join their faith. Catholics in interfaith marriages had divorce rates similar to those married to other Catholics. Evangelicals and Black Protestants in interfaith marriages seemed to be the least satisfied with their unions.
In 2009, Margaret Vaaler, Christopher Ellison, and Daniel Powers of the University of Texas at Austin published a research paper which suggests that the risk of divorce is higher when a husband attends religious services more frequently than his wife or when the wife is more religiously conservative than her husband.
All About Religion
While some religious doctrines prohibit interfaith marriages, others are more accommodating towards mixed unions within limited circumstances provided some preconditions are met.
Judaism – Traditional or Orthodox Judaism does not support interfaith marriages. With time, the evolution of Conservative Judaism was more accommodating of gentile spouses in the hope that they could be converted into the faith. While modern-day liberal Rabbis are willing to officiate at interfaith marriages, the couples are often persuaded to raise Jewish children.
Islam – Islamic women are not allowed to marry outside the faith. The men are often granted permission to wed non-Islamic partners but conversion is often a pre-condition. Also, it is mandatory that the children be raised to be Muslims.
Christianity – Different denominations of Christianity practice their own set of rules and dictates for interfaith marriages. In recent times, Christianity has grown liberal towards interfaith unions.
Zoroastrianism – The Zoroastrian faith is quite rigid in disallowing interfaith marriages. Followers of Zoroastrianism who marry outside the faith risk being expelled from all religious services and rites. Often their children are also not allowed to participate in religious activities.
Hinduism – Traditional Hinduism does not allow for religious conversion. In theory, non-Hindu spouses are welcome since religion is only considered as a means to understanding the Divine truth. In practice, however, Hindus are often orthodox and rigid and interfaith marriages are prohibited.
Baha’i Religion – The Baha’i faith is quite welcoming of a non-Baha’i partner. The Baha’i ceremony to sanctify the wedding must be performed. The other religious ceremony may or may not be performed in this case.
Same-Faith Mixed Marriages
Inter-denomination marriages, though between individuals of the same religion, assume mammoth proportions in many societies. Catholic-Protestant marriages, Shia-Sunni marriages, inter-caste Hindu marriages have all led to violent oppositions, protests, and bloodshed across the world.
Fear of social ostracism and violent repercussions inhibit people from marrying outside their denominations. In countries such as India, these prohibitions are pushed to an extreme.
According to a 2013 survey, the number of girls in the age group 15-19 marrying men of a lower caste than their own in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is zero. In the state of Kerala this stands at 12.5 %. About 98.68% of girls between 15 and 19 years of age in Tamil Nadu marry men of their own caste.
In the 20-24 age group, girls marrying men of lower caste in Tamil Nadu stands at 2.05% and at 16.5% in Kerala. In conservative states like Haryana, the government has offered to reward a non-Scheduled Caste bride or groom for marrying a member belonging to the Scheduled Castes by paying an incentive of Rs 50,000. In the past 3 years, however, only 289 couples have claimed the incentive.
The Shia-Sunni strife has been one of the major conflicts of the Arab world. After a dramatic dip in the relations between the two, Iraqi government decided to handout $2000 awards to any Shia-Sunni couple tying the knot. In many countries with very strained Shia-Sunni relations, such as in Saudi Arabia, intermingling is strictly prohibited.
Fear Or Faith?
Honor killings in the name of religion have become a common occurrence in southern Asia and the Middle East. While the United Nations estimates there are over 5000 cases of honor killings, while many women’s groups fear over 20,000 honor killings each year.
"Though religions are "claimed" to be the source of teachings for honor killings, this practice is going on for thousands of years... Men who migrate to West from these patriarchal societies at times feel out of control, alienated, becoming more rigid in their ideas. A poll conducted by BBC Asian network showed that 1 in 10 of the 500 Sikhs, Christians, Muslims and Hindus would condone honor killings" - Ghazala Hayat in ‘Honor killing is Not an Act of Faith’, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
In 2010, when Gonay Ogmen, a Christian Armenian from Istanbul gunned down his 26-year-old sister Sonay who married a Muslim Kurd, Zekeriya Vural, he exposed the major issue of honor killings faced by Turkey. The Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation (IKWRO) reported over 2,800 honor-related killings in the U.K. in 2010. This was an increase of 47% over 2009. In India, women’s rights organizations believe there are over 1000 honor killings each year, most of which go unreported.
Till Faith Do Us Part
Some major issues faced by interfaith couples –
Ceremony – The wedding itself requires much thought. Civil ceremonies are preferred. Often couples choose to add features or clergymen or spiritual leaders from both religions.
Ostracism – More common in the eastern part of the world is social or religious ostracism. Interfaith marriages could cost one or both partners their families, friends, and even jobs.
Birth Control – The use of birth control and family planning are dictated quite rigidly by many religions. Interfaith partners need to agree on this issue.
Abortion – While followers of certain religions are permitted to abort unborn fetuses while abortion is considered a sin in many faiths.
Belief In God – ‘Which God to believe/worship?’ is an important issue interfaith couples grapple with.
Church/Religious Attendance – Keeping the faith becomes a bone of contention often. Attendance becomes an issue especially when one partner is an atheist or practices no faith.
Faith of the Children – One of the most important issues of contention among interfaith couples is the faith in which their children will be raised.
Divorce – While some religions such as Roman Catholicism forbid divorce, other religions are far more liberal in this respect.
Young couples are increasingly turning towards non-marital cohabitation as a solution preferring to live together without marriage to entering interfaith marriages. According to a 2012 report in the Jewish Journal, over 73% of the American Jews in unions with non-Jews were cohabiting and not in marriages.
Celebrity Interfaith Unions
Celebrity interfaith marriages have had their share of spotlight and heartbreaks as well. In some cases, such as Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, religion is believed to have played a big role in the break up. The couple was also involved in a very public custody battle of their daughter, Suri. The custody issue also would decide the child’s religion, it was believed.
Katie Holmes (Catholic) and Tom Cruise (Scientologist)
Idina Menzel (Jewish) and Taye Diggs (Christian)
Cokie Roberts (Catholic) and Steve Roberts (Jewish)
Sasha Baron Cohen (Jewish) and Isla Fisher (No faith)
Katy Perry (Evangelical Christian) and Russell Brand (Atheist)
Chelsea Clinton (Methodist) and Marc Mezvinsky (Jewish)
Tony Blair (Anglican) and Cherie Blair (Catholicism)
Courtney Cox (Christian) and David Arquette (Jewish)
Liz Hurley (Church of England) and Arun Nayar (Hindu)
Amanda Peet (Quaker) and David Benioff (Jewish)
Iman (Muslim) and David Bowie (Agnostic)
Ivanka Trump (Christian) and Jared Kushner (Jewish)
Anne Bancroft (Catholic) and Mel Brooks (Jewish)
Kyra Sedgwick (Jewish) and Kevin Bacon (Catholic)
Shawn King (Mormon) and Larry King (Jewish)
Rita Wilson (Greek Orthodox) and Tom Hanks (Christian)