Why we ask this question: Religion

Q: “I would prefer my partner not have the following religious affiliations...”

We understand that religion is a sensitive topic that contends with deeply held, fundamental views, and as a result, can carry a lot of emotional weight. We care enormously about treating it with the respect it deserves, and we’ve put a lot of thought into getting this right. Thank you for taking the time to engage with our reasoning.

First, The Marriage Pact does not support discrimination in any form. We aim to be a fun, inclusive community event that welcomes all students, and we understand that allowing participants to exclude entire groups can feel contradictory to that mission. However, we chose to include this option to acknowledge and respect that religious affiliation informs many peoples’ understanding of the world and their standards for action within it.

The Marriage Pact, as the name implies, aims to match you with a potential life partner. Because of that, we try to ask questions that evaluate your fundamental worldview as opposed to your specific interests. For many, beliefs stemming from religion (or lack thereof) are foundational aspects of their life experience. At its most extreme, running the Marriage Pact without taking into account religious affiliation could result in matches who find each others’ views morally objectionable. 

We also want to keep in mind practical features of your preferred partnership. This is why the questionnaire asks about things with concrete implications for your future, like how many (if any) children you want. For some, religious affiliation is a question with equal or greater implications for their ultimate lifestyle. 

For example, the vast majority of parents actively raise their children with their same views. Faith can be an especially important family value for religious minorities - the three largest non-Christian religions in the United States (Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism) also have the highest intergenerational retention rates (75%, 77%, and 80% respectively, Pew Research Center, 2015). We don’t want to match people with conflicting, non-negotiable prerequisites for their childrens’ upbringing, even if they have other similarities. 

For some, a potential partner’s religion is also a prerequisite for family acceptance. How devastating would it be to be matched with someone whose family you could never meet? 

Of course, not everyone feels this strongly. 31% of marriages in the United States are interfaith, and that number is only increasing (Pew, 2015). As such, participants are only given the opportunity to restrict their potential matches if they identify their partner’s religious affiliation as highly important. 

Why it’s worded in an exclusive (rather than inclusive) way

The wording of this question comes down to a tension between two things: (1) how inclusive does it feel to read? vs. (2) how inclusive are its effects?

An easy alternative wording would read more inclusively: “I would prefer my partner have any of the following religious affiliations…” This framing feels better, but results in substantially more exclusion because of the default effect. If you take no action, you’re opting in to no groups whatsoever. It’s far too easy to behave exclusively.

The current wording reads, on the surface, more exclusionary. But the default option here—the path of least resistance—is being OK with all religious affiliations. If a participant really wants to behave exclusively, they’ll have to confront it with each additional box they check.

The science of questionnaire design suggests this format will lead to the most inclusive effects, despite the way it reads. But we can always do better. If you have any alternative ideas or suggestions, please email us at inclusion@marriagepact.com.