Oregon debates divorce vs. commitment -7/24/99
Tue Jul 27 15:59:09 EDT 1999
Oregon debates divorce vs. commitment: Who's right?
The movement rallies around the "covenant marriage" theme
Saturday, July 24, 1999
Nancy Mayer of The Oregonian staff
Family activists who want to strengthen the institution of marriage and
make divorces harder to get are echoing a movement that is gaining
momentum both in Oregon and across the nation. just as in other states,
Oregon lawmakers recently tried to legislate tougher rules on marriage --
and divorce. Though a marriage bill failed during the final few days of
the 1999 Legislature, politicians signaled that the topic is likely to
Senate Bill 1336, the "covenant marriage bill," passed the state Senate
but died in the House on Wednesday by a 32-24 vote. The bill would have
given two options to Oregon couples who wanted to many. the current
"nofault" marriage, with its possibility for a fasttrack divorce, or a
new "covenant marriage," which would have made it much harder to get a
legal split. The new type of marriage required premarital counseling and
restricted divorce to cases of adultery, abandonment, abuse, habitual
gambling or a felony criminal conviction.
"This is just the beginning of a conversation in Oregon about what
marriage means," said Rep. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro. "I expect this to be
brought back up next session and passed."
Oregon's bill mirrored a ground-breaking law passed in Texas two years
ago. The discussion also echoed other legislatures' debates over
strengthening marriage laws and making it much harder to break
Last year, 17 states considered similar legislation, but only Arizona
passed it into law.
This year the issue came up again in about 25 states, including Oklahoma,
Texas, Colorado and Virginia, said John Crouch, executive director of
Americans for Divorce Reform and a divorce lawyer.
In contrast, no-fault divorce caught on as fast as a grass fire after
being introduced in California in 1969, and all 50 states later passed
easy-out marriage laws.
While few lawmakers have passed covenant marriage laws, governments are
attempting to strengthen marriage in other ways.
Florida requires marriage education in high school; Oklahoma Gov. Frank
Keating has pledged that his state -- which has the second highest
divorce rate behind Nevada -- will reduce divorce by 33 percent in the
next decade, according to Crouch.
Critics of tighter marriage laws and Oregon lawmakers who opposed the
bill worried that the trend will revive the stigma formerly associated
with divorce, trap couples in bad marriages and cause uglier, more
Several Oregon lawmakers called it a full employment act for divorce
While critics may flinch at the thought of private investigators again
taking pictures of adulterous spouses to establish grounds for divorce, a
movement led by the nation's churches to strengthen marriage has spread
like ivy in the past decade.
In Oregon, ministers of several denominations in Marion County, Newberg,
Corvallis, Philomath, Sweet Home, Salem and Keizer have signed a
"Community Marriage Policy" promising that ministers will preside at a
wedding only if a couple has gone through premarital counseling.
Similar policies have been adopted in 100 communities nationwide.
Three decades ago, pundits began to wonder aloud if marriage and the
traditional family would soon fade and become obsolete.
"My own hunch," futurist and author Alvin Toffler wrote in a 1971 Look
magazine article, "is that most people will try to go blindly through the
motions of the traditional marriage and try to keep the traditional
family going, and they'll fail."
Toffler's prediction proved correct.
In 1970, one-third of all marriages ended in divorce, according to U.S.
Census figures, and 20 years later, almost half of marriages dissolved.
In addition, almost one out of three Oregon children is born to a single
woman, according to Oregon Health Division statistics.
Whether marriage laws change or not, 27-year-old Eric Richey of Salem
said he intends to make his 1-year-old marriage to 25-year-old Molly
Richey last until death. His own parents have a committed relationship,
and he and Molly went through a premarital class and counseling at Salem
Alliance Church before their wedding.
If covenant marriage had been a choice, Richey said, they would have
jumped at the chance.
But in Louisiana, which has a covenant option, only about 2 percent of
marrying couples are opting for that type of marriage, said Alan J.
Hawkins, director of the Family Studies Center at Brigham Young
University in Provo, Utah.
Researchers say implementation has been rocky. In several Louisiana
counties, clerks hand couples marriage forms with the traditional
marriage box already checked off, Hawkins said.
"Is covenant marriage going to make an immediate, dramatic impact? I
don't think so," said Hawkins, part of a research team studying
Louisiana's law. "But indirectly, and over the long run, it will help in
important ways that are hard to measure. It makes people think and talk
about their values, and specifically, about commitment."
Members of the generation marrying now seem to have a stronger desire to
be in stable marriages than their parents did, Hawkins said. They are
also worried about the viability of a long-term marriage, since many of
them grew up in divorced households.
Marriage has gone through changes and drastic experimentation in the last
20 years, Hawkins said, a lot of which has not worked well. "But people
are opening themselves up to a new way to make sense of their lives and
create happiness and stability," he said. "They want to believe in
marriage as a lifetime commitment again."
Reach reporter Nancy Mayer by phone at 503-221-8143 or by e-mail at
nancymayer at news.oregonian.com.
"Around the Coalition" shares information on marriage and divorce and on
skills-based educational approaches. Opinions expressed are not
necessarily shared by members of the Coalition.
-To UNSUBSCRIBE to this list, send a message to: majordomo at his.com
The subject line is unimportant. In the message body, on the very first
line, write: "unsubscribe smartmarriages" (WITHOUT the quotation marks).
Send this message and you will no longer receive mail from this list.
-To SUBSCRIBE to the FREE CMFCE on-line newsletter, send a message to:
majordomo at his.com The subject line is unimportant. In the message body,
on the very first line, write: "subscribe smartmarriages" (WITHOUT the
- to CHANGE YOUR ADDRESS, follow the directions above to unsubscribe the
old address, and the directions to subscribe the new address.
- this is a moderated list. When you send a reply message it is read by
Diane Sollee only.
ALL past newsletter postings are archived at:
Visit the website Articles and Informatin page at
The 3rd Annual Smart Marriages/Happy Families conference was held
July 1-4, 1999 in Washington, DC.
To order tapes of all presentations at the conference, as well as the
1997 & 1998 Smart Marriages conferences: call 800-241-7785 or at
tapes at the-resource-link.com. Audio tapes are $10, video tapes are
To list your program in the Directory of Providers visit the
Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, LLC (CMFCE)
Diane Sollee, Director
5310 Belt Rd. NW, Washington, DC 20015-1961
202-362-3332 (FAX 202-362-0973) Email: cmfce at smartmarriages.com
More information about the SmartMarriages