There was a time when marriage was necessary for the very survival of the family. At least most people believed that to be true and perpetuated the theory. Women were not allowed to make their way independently, and both they and their children needed the financial support of a man.
Having sex before marriage was a risky venture, because it could make a woman less desirable, and an unmarried woman's future was usually bleak. Children produced outside marriage were almost certainly doomed to a low social status and poverty.
Perhaps those archaic realities and the tendency of some people (mostly men) to cling to the strictures of the past have led to such desperate measures as Utah's HB363, a bill rightly vetoed by Gov. Gary Herbert. It would have stupidly elevated ignorance about sexuality to the law of the land. But refusing to instruct young Utahns in the facts about sex, contraception, homosexuality and other realities will not stem the tide of inevitable changes in the social fabric.
A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that about 60 percent of American couples now live together before marriage. Not only are many people having sex before marriage, they are setting up homes together that are as permanent as those established after a ceremony.
In the '60s only about 10 percent of American couples lived together before getting married, and those who did had a higher divorce rate than those who waited until afterward to cohabitate. But things have changed. The study finds that couples in committed relationships today who intend to get married and have established households before exchanging vows stayed married as long as couples who didn't live together first.
It's true that many religions, including Utah's predominant one, believe sex without benefit of marriage is a sin. It's a belief cemented in the days when marriage was not only a sacred rite but a practical necessity. In the 21st century, women are utterly capable of gaining financial independence, and if they choose to have children, they are usually competent parents, married or not.
The nuclear family is becoming just one of many types of healthy family structures, even if conservative Utah legislators and church leaders want to ignore the fact.
And many Utah teenagers will be sexually active before they marry. Many others will choose to wait. In order to make the right choice for themselves, they need all the facts about options and consequences that they can get.