It has been said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation.” Never a truer word has been said about Quebec.

The Vanier Institute of the Family recently published an article on Quebec’s plummeting marriage rates. Only about one third of Quebec men and slightly more women, about 37 percent, are likely to marry. This is an unprecedented drop from a marriage rate of about 85 to 90 percent just a generation ago.

Even the birth of children proves to be little incentive to formalize unions. In 1970, the out-of-wedlock birth rate was about ten percent, similar to the rest of Canada. But by 1993, almost half of all births occurred outside of marriage, double the rate in the rest of Canada. And the numbers for second, third and even fourth children born out of wedlock are also high.

The choice to have children without being married is not limited to the young and naive. Thirty-seven percent of births to women in their thirties are out-of-wedlock. In fairness, it is not always a case of two ships passing in the night, as they say. Many of these families consider themselves to be de facto married.

But even the long term “committed” relationships are less stable than legal marriages. The Montreal Gazette quotes Universite do Montreal demographer Nicole Marcil-Gratton: “Our own studies show that children born into such environments are more liable to experience their parents’ separation, that it is bound to happen sooner in life, and that they will be more frequently…subjected to family reconstitution.”

The statistics reflect a social and cultural upheaval that has occurred during the last twenty-five years, the repercussions of which are disturbing. The decline in marriage, together with the rise in out-of-wedlock births is a widespread phenomenon accepted by all age groups. It is a chosen behaviour, despite the existence of certain legal advantages to marriage.

Not surprisingly, the birth rate in Quebec continues to slide, despite substantial financial support, through family allowance, for all children, especially three or more in a family. What was once derisively called the “revenge of the cradle,” when Quebecers had the highest birth rate in Canada, has become the suicide of the empty cradle.

About twenty years ago Malcolm Muggeridge spoke on the steps of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. Speaking in French, he implored Quebecers to return to their faith, to the Catholic Church. He reminded them that this was the heart of their identity. Time has shown that Quebecers have indeed abandoned the Church. They have forsaken not just the intuitional church, but the faith of their forbears that inspired martyrs and nation-builders.

It is ironic that while this country debates “distinct society” and sovereignty, the people of Quebec are on a pendulum that has swung so far away from its traditions, its faith, its culture as to be unrecognizable. It is a society that is morally weak, and it is this weakness that has led Quebec o the brink of separating from Canada. The societal change which is reflected in the abandonment of marriage, is paralleled in the province’s dwindling attachment to the rest of Canada.

If Quebec does secede, it will not be because the people of this province have matured and developed and thus need an independent nation. It is because they lack the moral fibre to make and keep a commitment. It is because they have forsaken their past and they have no faith in the future.

This is borne out by an unusual item from an Angus Reid poll, released in early January. According to published reports, francophone Catholics who attend Mass weekly voted “No” in the October Referendum, by a margin of nearly two to one.

The pollsters took into account that churchgoers tend to be older, but the results held true for younger voters as well. Similar results were found among those who attend Mass approximately monthly. Indeed, while the rich and ethnics take the rap for the referendum’s defeat, it seems those church-going Catholics account for enough votes to swing the results.

The significance of the devout Catholic vote is only speculation, but it suggests that the fervour for separation is felt by those who lack the fervour of religious faith. The somewhat capricious attraction to secession is one of many symptoms of a society which is in a grave crisis.

The family in Quebec is dying. As the family goes, so goes the nation.