When Different Religions Marry

In some religious traditions where marriages are still arranged, making a so-called love match is an issue of contention for parents and adult children. In conservative or fundamentalist branches of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, males and females socialize, worship, and learn separate from each other.

Within the same families, certain members are lax or lapsed in their religious observances, while others follow strict rules for holidays, meals, and dress, among other things. The areas for conflict are ripe when you're encountering so many differences.

If you are marrying or are already married to someone of another religion, you may be aware of the potential land mines. For example, there's the decision to wed by a priest or in front of a rabbi. If you or your partner is Jewish, the issue of whether to circumcise a newborn boy, or not, can be hugely important. There is also the question of whether or not to baptize, which is a must in observant Catholic and conservative Christian families.


Many more members of different faiths are intermarrying, up to a fivefold increase from the 1950s to the 1990s, representing an estimated 33 million Americans now in such intermarriages. In each of the following faiths, the percentage of those who've married outside their religion are: 21 percent of Catholics, 32 percent of Jews, 30 percent of Mormons, 25 percent of Lutherans, and 40 percent of Muslims.

As much as possible, it is best for the two of you to address the resulting issues and choices prior to or early in your marriage. In this vein, it's important to look inside you and within your extended families to confront any religious prejudice that may be there, consciously or not.

If prejudice arises in relation to your partner or his family, it is best to confront it immediately, and set boundaries for what is acceptable when dealing with each side of the family.

When sharp religious or cultural differences are present, you need to realize that mutual understanding and full acceptance may take time. Do not attempt to be more knowledgeable than you really are about another religion, and do not attempt to sound politically correct at the risk of being honest about your feelings or needs. You may, out of courtesy and respect, don a scarf to cover your head when entering a mosque or traditional Christian church, but that doesn't mean you are likely to trade in your basic values in exchange for another's.

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