Colombia is an overwhelmingly religious country – about 90% of Colombians identify as Catholic or Protestant Christian. As such, religious values deeply influence societal attitudes and norms regarding gender roles, sexuality, relationships, and marriage.
This article provides an extensive examination of how Catholic and evangelical traditions in Colombia have shaped cultural perspectives on premarital relationships, marriage rituals, family structure, and evolving dynamics between couples. We analyze the customs, expectations, and stigma that religious-based mores have cultivated around dating, proposals, weddings, married life, child-rearing, divorce, domestic roles, and intimacy.
While Colombia is modernizing, the imprint of faith remains visible across the relationship realm, albeit with generational shifts. We contrast the traditional norms still dominant in rural areas versus liberalizing trends in urban centers like Bogota and Medellin.
The Catholic heritage in Colombia propagates traditional marital values and prescribed gender roles. Almost all Colombian wives are expected to embody the Christian virtues of nurturing, patience, and fidelity within the marital home. Meanwhile, husbands act as providers and spiritual leaders of the family. This dynamic stems from staunch Catholic teachings on marriage which permeate Colombian society.
Let’s examine Catholicism’s influence in detail:
Catholicism’s influence shapes courtship customs where dating is fairly conservative – premarital sex is taboo, couples rarely live together before marriage. Men ask women out, pay for dates, make romantic overtures according to traditional gender roles. PDA is frowned upon and intimacy is expected to remain private until after the wedding. Parental approval is important when relationships get serious and familial involvement is welcomed. The path from dating to engagement to marriage is expected to be swift – couples date for a year or two before marrying.
Elaborate, romantic marriage proposals are the norm in Catholic culture. Men ask the woman’s father for her hand in marriage. Big church weddings are preferred, with lavish receptions with 200+ guests common. Wedding expenses are often split between the bride and groom’s families, and parents feel societal pressure to pay for a sizable affair. Not adhering to expected Catholic wedding customs causes family turmoil and gossip, making a civil ceremony taboo.
Legally, wives must assume their husband’s last name in Catholic marriages. Married women are referred to as Señora, denoting their married status. Motherhood is regarded as central to women’s identity, with having children quickly after marriage expected. Men are considered the head of household, wielding authority over finances and household decisions. Traditional gender roles prevail – men work and handle finances while women care for children and the household. Divorce is discouraged, with separated women facing stigma and often barred from communion.
Since the 1980s, evangelical Protestantism has steadily gained followers across Colombia, now representing over 10% of the population:
Evangelicals take an ultra-conservative view of gender roles and sexuality. They believe in strict binary gender roles, with men as leaders and women as submissive followers. Evangelicals see sexuality as only appropriate within marriage, viewing premarital sex, cohabitation, homosexuality and birth control as morally wrong. Having children is seen as always being God’s will, so birth control is taboo.
Men wield far greater authority within evangelical family structures. They are seen as the head of the household, with strict limitations placed on women’s roles, dress code, and autonomy. Women are expected to be obedient and subordinate to their husbands. This creates family turmoil when someone converts to evangelicalism, as devout Catholic relatives clash with the newly evangelical convert over these rigid gender norms.
Evangelicals are also very politically active in opposing gay rights, abortion access, and progressive social policies that contradict their ultra-conservative worldview. They advocate for legislation that aligns with their moral beliefs, often using religious rationale to argue against laws allowing gay marriage, abortion, no-fault divorce and other socially liberal policies. This political activism stems from their strict adherence to traditional Biblical values.
Attachment to Catholic and evangelical relational values varies sharply across Colombia’s regions and socioeconomic divides:
- Progressive social views cropped up in Bogota, Medellin, Cali, especially among educated, upper-class residents.
- Cohabitation before marriage rising. Social censure weakening among younger urbanites.
- Feminist movement expanding, fighting sexism, machismo, violence against women.
- Support growing for divorce, abortion access, same-sex marriage, especially post-2016 peace deal.
- Conservative religious norms around marriage, gender, sexuality remain strong in the countryside.
- Women expected to marry and have children by their early 20s. Seen as old maids if unwed by late 20s.
- Domestic abuse is often overlooked. Women financially dependent on husbands with no option to leave.
- Revealing clothing frowned upon. Female virginity is prized until marriage.
- Poorer Colombians tend to closely adhere to cultural religious norms around marriage and family.
- High importance placed on large church weddings, even if going into debt to afford lavish receptions.
- Men feel acute pressure to be good providers as heads of families. Domestic violence can result.
- Women have limited autonomy or independence. Dependent on husbands financially and socially.
Despite ongoing religious influence, younger Colombians are increasingly bucking traditional mores:
- Millennials and Gen Z show waning interest in religion altogether – less church attendance or adherence to doctrine.
- Cohabitation is rising. Moving in together before marriage is now common in cities.
- Fewer millennials are marrying. More couples are child-free and reject traditional family models.
- Remaining single into your 30s is no longer taboo. Young women pursuing careers and delaying motherhood.
- Approval growing for divorce, abortion access, same-sex marriage, especially in urban areas.
- Young people report more egalitarian views on gender roles. But ingrained machismo remains.
Religious values remain deeply ingrained in Colombia’s cultural DNA, upholding norms around relationships and family structures. Tradition continues to clash with progressive trends, creating divisions between urban and rural populations and across generations.
Yet the strong imprint of Catholic and evangelical mores persists nationwide. Despite growing strands of liberalization, faith traditions still underpin what most Colombians view as acceptable behavior within couples, marriage and child-rearing. Religion’s influence is far from disappearing in dictating societal expectations around relationships in Colombia.
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