Lawmakers push vows to make marriages last - 1/00
Thu Jan 13 18:28:06 EST 2000
from: Smart Marriages
More on the Minnesota legislation
Lawmakers push vows to make marriages last
"I do" or "I really do"? That question is at the heart of a national
about marriage that will return to Minnesota next month.
The state legislature will be asked to approve an optional set of
- sometimes called "super vows" - for couples who want to express an extra
measure of commitment to their marriage by making it harder for them to
Among the measures they'd agree to would be a two-year waiting period
the time they decided to divorce and the time they did so.
State Sen. Steve Dille and Rep. Elaine Harder, both Republicans,
plans last week to introduce the bill.
An idea borrowed from Louisiana, where it originated two years ago,
marriages are a new cause among groups that want to lower the nation's 50
percent divorce rate. In addition to the waiting period before a divorce,
covenant marriage concept also reverses some of this country's 20-year
Some blame the trend toward no-fault divorces for disrupting families, and
others credit it with easing the acrimony that used to linger because one
had to accuse the other of harm.
Covenant marriage bills cropped up in 17 state legislatures last year.
but Arizona rejected them, observers of the trend said policy-makers in
half the states were considering the change as of last summer.
"It . . . appears that we are on the front end of a covenant marriage
could sweep across the nation," said Steven Nock, a University of Virginia
sociology professor who will spend the next five years tracking the
for the National Science Foundation.
Many states that rejected covenant marriages did approve smaller,
divorce-fighting policies. Dille and Harder would do that, too, sponsoring
another measure that would allow couples who go through premarital
pay only $20 for their marriage license instead of the usual $70.
The strong interest is generating hot debate.
Supporters, including conservative religious groups, say covenant
help prevent some divorces by slowing down a process that now proceeds
and too often. They say the price of divorce - it cuts U.S. women's
living an average of 30 percent and is the single most common act to send
children into poverty - makes it an issue that reaches beyond the home
Opponents and skeptics, including feminists, say there's no evidence that
divorce harder saves marriages, and that in fact covenant marriage laws
backfire and make some divorces messier. They worry that women will be
reluctant to leave abusive marriages. And they wonder how many couples
choose the special marriage, anyway; in Louisiana, for example, only 3
The Minnesota covenant marriage bill would set up two options for couples:
standard marriage or covenant marriage. Covenant couples would agree to
premarital education and to marriage counseling if they later were
divorce. They also would agree to a two- year waiting period for a
except in cases involving abuse, abandonment or adultery.
"I'm not saying and nobody who's part of this is saying that this should
everybody," said Bill Doherty, a University of Minnesota professor of
social science and family therapist who supports the covenant marriage
"And I do think that some divorces are necessary; some divorces are
right thing to do.
"But I believe there are many divorces that are unnecessary because
not prepare for the marriage adequately (or) did not get help in time to
the marriage," he said.
For example, Doherty cited a 1998 poll of Minnesotans for the nonprofit
Minnesota Family Institute in which 66 percent of divorced respondents
wished they and their ex-spouses had tried harder to work through their
Minnesota law now encourages couples to mediate rather than litigate
but it is not required. Also, Doherty said, while many churches provide
premarital counseling, such sessions are attended by only half of all
and last less than two hours on average.
In comparison, Minnesota's covenant marriage bill stipulates a minimum of
The issue has divided people in expected and unexpected ways. Some
object to sanctioning any new kind of marriage for fear that it will
door to other kinds that they don't want, including marriages for gay
Diane Sollee, director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples
Education in Washington, D.C., said her organization works to preserve
partly because divorce hurts women in so many ways, including financial.
"I'm a strong feminist, and I'm not for rolling back our hard-won equal
like to jobs and equal pay," Sollee said. "But if we can help marriages
together, then women really will have it all."
In Minnesota, several family therapists and divorce attorneys oppose
The Minnesota proposal says couples wouldn't have to wait two years to
if there were abuse or adultery, for example. But that means one spouse
have to accuse the other, which is likely to reintroduce the acrimony that
current no-fault laws help avoid, said Bill Dorn, a marriage and family
therapist in Minneapolis and Red Wing, Minn.
Edina attorney Mike Dittberner said he doesn't believe covenant marriages
stop any divorces. Most couples don't make the decision to divorce
lightly and a
two-year wait will not change their minds, Dittberner said.
Dorn sees all this as the beginning of a bigger shift. "We'd gotten into a
mentality that marriage is an innate right, and the community has almost
right or responsibility to intervene," he said.
"But I think we're beginning to say, with some of this legislation, that
this is a societal structure, and it has value not only to the couple but
culture, and society has some right to monitor at least the preparedness
couples for marriage."
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