In D.C., Couples Mark a Love That Lasts, and Lasts . . .

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 4, 2007

It's hard to believe that, in 2007, you can put 1,000 adults in one room and nobody is divorced.

But that was the scene yesterday in the polished magnificence of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington, where more than 500 married couples from throughout Maryland and the District gathered to renew their wedding vows.

And these weren't vows they had originally made five or 10 years ago.

We're talking Olympic-level marriage achievement here. The ceremony for Catholic couples, hosted by the Archdiocese of Washington, was for couples who had been married 25 years or more. But half of the couples present yesterday had hit the half-century mark.

In all, a crowd possessing a total of 40,000 years of wedded bliss sat in the nave of the basilica for the 75-minute ceremony. Okay, maybe not always bliss, but that's still a lot of years together in an age when one-third of marriages go down the drain in their first five years.

Among Christians, Catholics are substantially less likely than Protestants to get divorced, according to a 2004 study by the Barna Group, a religious research organization. Among Catholics, it found, 25 percent have had a divorce, compared with 39 percent of Protestants. (Among the largest Protestant groups, Pentecostals were most likely to get divorced, and Presbyterians were the least likely, the study found.)

Although some of their peers have traded in spouses and struggled to blend families, mortgaged themselves to divorce lawyers and haggled over who got the kids at Christmas, Joyce and Michael Steier of Bowie have lasted 30 years and raised four children.

"It's a whole mindset," said Joyce, 54, as she sat waiting for the ceremony to begin, Michael's arm around her. "You know that you're committed. Everybody has their ups and downs, but you know that you're going to stay together."

That same attitude has kept Betty and Ray Lankford, 81-year-olds who own a plumbing business on Solomons Island, going during their 62 years of marriage. (Her father predicted it wouldn't last.)

Their only fights, they said, were about the kids.

But they had 10 kids.

So, Ray said, they had an agreement. "Never go to bed mad and always kiss and make up," he said. "And when you get up in the morning, say, 'I love you.' "

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company