There’s a little-known collection of public licensing numbers that insiders at Orange County courts unofficially call our “Happy Index.” And, lately, the numbers have been pushing the Index up.
Perhaps it’s the economy, the Lakers’ second championship in a row, or this summer’s hot song, “California Gurls” by Katy Perry. Whatever the reason, Orange County saw more June brides – and June grooms – this year than the year before. In all, there were 2,034 marriage licenses issued in Orange County last month, a bump of about 3 percent.
“We call this the happiest place on earth,” quipped Renee Ramirez, the deputy commissioner who oversees Orange County licenses and civil marriage ceremonies.
Another number on our Happy Index shows that marriage ceremonies performed at the courthouse are way up. A whopping 752 ceremonies were performed this June, up about 15 percent from June of ’09.
“They come in limos. They come during lunch. They come in big formal dresses or just jeans or shorts,” Ramirez said. Some, she added, actually do come from The Happiest Place on Earth – Disneyland. She can tell by the Mickey and Minnie hats.
But, if marriage is indeed happiness – and, really, is there a husband reading this who won’t raise his hand and say ‘Yes, dear, it is!’ — the real question is this: What’s the trick to keeping the marriage going?
For that, I talked to people with marriages totaling hundreds of years. The strange thing – and I’ll admit here that our Happy Index may not be the most scientific gauge – the rest of the nation isn’t following our lead. Heck, not even the rest of California seems to agree with singer Perry that “once you party with us, you’ll be falling in love.”
California, overall, falls in the bottom 10 states when it comes to marriage. According to 2008 numbers from the Census Bureau, 49 percent of men and 46 percent of women in the Golden State are married. That’s solidly below national stats, which indicate 52 percent of men and 48 percent of women have entered difficult-to-revoke, lifetime commitments of sexual and emotional fidelity and mutual financial support.
Of course, if the courts throw out Proposition 8’s ban on gay marriage, our numbers should improve. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (and I am not kidding about the agency) reports a national downward trend in marriage. In 2000, 8.2 out of every 1,000 Americans got married. By 2007, the last year for which statistics are available, the marriage rate was down to 7.3 per 1,000 – a decline of nearly 11 percent in less than a decade.
If you think that’s bad news, here’s some bright news: the CDC also reported the divorce rate dropped from 4 out of 1,000 people in 2000 to 3.6 in 2007 – the lowest rate in nearly four decades. (Divorce, by the way, has fallen nearly 25 percent from the peak, in 1981.)
And the brighter news is that California no longer leads the nation in divorces. In fact we’re tied with Illinois as having the country’s second lowest divorce rate. Both states trail Utah. Of course, if fewer people are getting married it stands to reason that fewer people are getting divorced. The real test is to look at people who have been married for a long time and are still together. There’s not a statistic for that, per se, but there are examples.
My wife and I are doing our best to help with this. Last month, we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary. With luck – and work – we’ll stay in the still-married majority. Ramirez is doing her part too. Not only does she oversee civil marriages, she is celebrating her 17th year of marriage. With four kids, ages 3, 9, 11 and 16, what’s her secret?
“It’s all about being on the same team,” Ramirez told me.
I pressed her for more because marriage is no simple accomplishment. Just ask Tipper and Al Gore. “There’s a learning curve. It’s maturity,” Ramirez wisely explained. “It’s accepting people’s faults and realizing nobody’s perfect.”
Reposted from the Orange County Resister