Laws Discouraging Divorce Spreading Slowly if at All - 2/11/01
cmfce at his.com
Thu Feb 15 14:27:33 EST 2001
subject: Laws Discouraging Divorce Spreading Slowly if at All - 2/11/01
from: Smart Marriages
Note: Katherine Spaht will present in Orlando on two workshops, one
on Divorce Reform and another on a session with Phil Waugh that
distinguishes between the legislative and religious Covenant Movements
and explains how to support both or either in your community. - diane
Having just read the enclosed LA Times AP wire story by
David Crary with whom I spoke at length, I can see how those of us in the
Marriage Movement would be dispirited by his report on covenant marriage.
I have just completed reading some of the material thus far compiled by
Steve Nock who is studying covenant marriage and I attribute the small
number of newly wed covenant couples to two phenomena: (1) recalcitrant,
hostile civil servants envisioned as having a role in informing engaged
couples of the option of a covenant marriage who are simply NOT performing
their responsibilities and (2) benign neglect, confusion, fear or worse by
members of the clergy in Louisiana. In fact in the article I am writing
about the subject I suggest that the next research topic by Steve's group
should be to explore the attitude of the Louisiana clergy to the covenant
marriage option. As to (1) I have drafted some corrective legislation in
Louisiana and volunteered (an offer that was accepted) to train clerks staff
Nonetheless, I remain optimistic. Several states have
Covenant Marriage legislation underway - Georgia, Indiana, Maryland,
Missouri, Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, NJ, Ark, Iowa - there may
be more. We should all perhaps be reminded of the story of a man walking
the beach horrified by the starfish washed up on shore and dying. In the
distance he sees another man throwing one starfish at a time back into the
ocean. When he reaches the man throwing the starfish into the ocean, he
says, "What are you doing?! You can't save all of these starfish." The man
replies as he throw another one back: "It matters to that one." That is
what we must remember.
We just held a covenant marriage conversion event at our church and 25
more couples converted their marriages (we have 10 more waiting until May).
In February, 1998, we had 50 couples convert. They renewed their vows on
Saturday night at the church and then came to my house for a wedding
reception, complete with wedding cake and groom's cake. The touching
portion of the celebration was the invitation of the parents to their
children to witness the event and to come to the reception. We executed
documents at my house (my husband and his law partner), the couples
received a commemorative copy of their Declaration of Intent suitable for
framing, each couple had a picture taken behind the wedding cake, we had a
delicious spread of food prepared by our church's mentoring couples, and at
the end of the evening before cutting the cakes we toasted marriage.
However, before that toast we listened to the Samuels' (the couple featured
in the National Post and Maggie's column) give their testimony.
They spoke about the conversion of their marriage to a covenant marriage in
1998 and how it had saved their marriage. Sheran ended the remarks by
declaring that the most wonderful thing now is to see the faces of their
children as they run to join their parents in bed each morning--finding
them there together. It was a beautiful evening. One more
Here is the LA Times article:
Sunday, February 11, 2001
Laws Discouraging Divorce Spreading Slowly if at All
>From Associated Press
NEW YORK--Across America, it is easy to find politicians and civic leaders
decrying the prevalence and social cost of divorce. It is far harder to find
consensus about what, if anything, policymakers should do in response.
An array of proposals has reached legislative hearing rooms; few of
substance have been enacted.
No state has followed Florida's example in requiring a marriage-education
curriculum for public high school students. One state, Arizona, has followed
Louisiana in approving covenant marriages, in which couples voluntarily
impose limits on their ability to divorce.
Despite setbacks, including rebuffs of covenant-marriage bills in more than
20 states, supporters of the so-called Marriage Movement say they're
encouraged. "At least marriage is back on the agenda," said Alan Hawkins,
professor of family sciences at Brigham Young University. "I find that
Hawkins supports covenant marriage and other ways of discouraging divorce,
but says he's not surprised by legislators' wary reaction.
"We're just surfacing from a generation of living in a culture of divorce
and questioning whether it was everything we hoped it would be," he said.
"It's a bigger step from questioning, and realizing there are real problems,
to saying we ought to do something about the problems."
Few Choose the Option
Backers of Louisiana's covenant-marriage law hoped they were sending a
message to the nation when their bill was passed in 1997. It was touted as
the first substantive move in two centuries to make divorce harder, not
In essence, covenant marriage gives couples the option of spurning no-fault
divorce; they sign binding contracts that require premarital counseling and
permit divorce only in cases of abuse, abandonment, adultery, imprisonment
of a spouse or a lengthy separation.
So far, fewer than 5% of Louisiana couples are choosing covenant marriage.
Arizona opted for a weaker version that allows participating couples to
divorce relatively easily if there is mutual consent.
Tony Perkins, the state representative who sponsored Louisiana's law,
acknowledges that the response of other states has been discouraging. He
said the proposal had failed in some seemingly sympathetic
legislatures--Texas and Oklahoma, for example--because of opposition by key
committee chairmen who were divorce lawyers.
If covenant marriage were to spread, Perkins said, "It would be a blow to
the divorce industry."
Perkins predicted that at least a few other states will eventually try
The Rev. Russ Stevenson, minister at the First Presbyterian Church in Baton
Rouge, La., says Louisiana ministers could more actively promote covenant
At his church, Stevenson said, couples planning to wed were at first simply
advised that covenant marriage was an option.
"They would look at each other with stars in their eyes and say, 'Honey, we
don't really need that, do we?' " Stevenson said. "When you are in the full
flush of love, preparing to get married, you are not thinking about
Now Stevenson is firmer.
"We really ask couples to have a covenant marriage, and if they object, we
try to talk them into it. We think it's in their best interest."
Mike Johnson, a Baton Rouge lawyer, and his wife, Kelly, entered a covenant
marriage in 1999. He has been trying since then to encourage friends to
"In my generation, all we've ever known is the no-fault scheme, and any
deviation from that seems like a radical move," said Johnson, 28. "We've all
been jaded by our parents' divorces.
"Because so few people have chosen covenant marriage in Louisiana, it seems
like an unpopular idea," he said. "It's not unpopular--it's just unknown.
Once the message is out there, a whole lot more people will choose it."
Joe Cook, director of the Louisiana branch of the American Civil Liberties
Union, disagrees: "It's a bad idea whose time should have never come.
Fortunately, it looks like it won't catch on."
The ACLU has criticized the law for seeming to infringe on the separation of
church and state. Many of the movement's staunchest backers are Christian
conservatives, and the law offers a prominent role to clergy in premarital
The ACLU also is concerned that women who enter covenant marriages might
have difficulty escaping from abusive relationships, even though the law
specifies that domestic violence is among the grounds for breaking the
"They're trying to come up with a quick fix to a complex problem," Cook
said. "If they want to help families, they can offer substance-abuse
treatment, improve public education, ensure a living wage. . . . You just
can't legislate a good marriage."
Tactics to curb divorce have been tried in other states, often
unsuccessfully. In Minnesota last year, Gov. Jesse Ventura vetoed a bill
that would have lowered marriage license fees for couples who seek
counseling before tying the knot.
"I do not believe that government has a role in marriage counseling,"
In Wisconsin, a federal judge last year struck down a new state law that
earmarked $210,000 in welfare money to help members of the clergy encourage
mentoring of younger couples by long-married couples. The judge said the law
unconstitutionally favored ministers over laypeople such as judges or
justices of the peace.
In Florida, lawmakers did reach consensus in 1998 on a first-of-its-kind
bill that promotes premarital counseling and requires relationship skills to
be taught in high school.
Former state Rep. Elaine Bloom of Miami, who sponsored the bill, cited
fathers who say, "If I had known before I started the divorce process how
difficult it would be to see my kids, I would have made a better attempt to
be a good husband and father."
But she said any such curriculum is likely to be attacked from the left and
right as government intrusion.
U.S. divorce rates soared in the 1970s after no-fault divorce laws spread
nationwide, then stabilized. There are no current official national figures,
but experts estimate that more than 40% of recent marriages will end in
Oklahoma, the most aggressive state so far, is pursuing a $10-million
campaign under Gov. Frank Keating. He wants to cut the state's divorce rate,
one of the nation's highest, by a third in 10 years.
In December, more than 200 Oklahoma religious leaders agreed to ask engaged
couples in their institutions to go through a four-to six-month marital
The Legislature passed some of Keating's other proposals but balked at
covenant marriage and a recommendation to remove mutual incompatibility as a
ground for divorce.
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