As promised, more on the topic of divorce and the Religious Right.
In the mid-90’s a movement emerged to create a category of legal marriage called ‘Covenant Marriage”. This was both a response to high divorce rates and an attempt to legislate religious principles into the legal contract of marriage.
In 1997, Louisiana became the first state to create covenant marriage as a legal category; since then Arkansas and Arizona have followed suit. People who are already married in these states may change their marriage to a covenant marriage.
Legislation has been introduced to create legal covenant marriage in a number of other states, including California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia; these efforts have not to date been successful.
One aspect of Covenant Marriage is pre-marital counseling, another is making it harder to obtain a legal separation or divorce. This is from an information pamphlet by the State of Arizona…
To get a divorce, any one of the following eight reasons
must be proved to the court (these are listed in Section 25-903
of the Arizona Revised Statutes):
1. The spouse against whom the divorce case is filed (the
“Respondent”) has committed adultery.
2. The spouse against whom the divorce case is filed (the
“Respondent”) has committed a serious crime (“felony”) and
has been sentenced to death or imprisonment.
3. For at least one year before the divorce case is filed, the
spouse against whom the divorce case is filed (the
“Respondent”) has been absent from (“abandoned”) the
home where the married couple resided and refuses to
return. The law allows an exception. A person may file for
divorce by claiming that the other spouse has left the home
and is expected to stay away for the one-year period. If the
spouse has not been away for one year when the court
papers are filed, the divorce case will not be dismissed
by the court. Instead the case will be put on hold until the
one-year requirement is met. During this time, the court still
may grant and enforce temporary orders for things like child
support, parenting time (formerly known as “visitation”)
and spousal support (sometimes called “alimony” or
4. The spouse against whom the divorce case is filed (the
“Respondent”) either has (1) physically or sexually abused
the other spouse, a child or a relative of either spouse who
lives permanently in the married couple’s home, or (2) committed
domestic violence (defined in Section 13-3601 of the
Arizona Revised Statutes) or emotional abuse.
5. The spouses have been living separate and apart without
getting back together for at least two straight years before
the divorce case is filed. The law allows an exception. A person
may file for divorce by claiming it is expected the spouses
will be separated for the two-year period. If the spouses
have not been separated for two years when the court papers
are filed, the divorce case will not be dismissed. Instead the
case will be put on hold until the two-year requirement is
met. During the two-year period, the court may still grant
and enforce temporary orders for things like child support,
parenting time (formerly known as “visitation”) and spousal
support (sometimes called “alimony” or “spousal maintenance”).
6. The spouses already have been granted a legal
separation by the court, and they have been living separate
and apart without getting back together for at least one year
from the date of the legal separation.
7. The spouse against whom the divorce case is filed (the
“Respondent”) has regularly abused drugs or alcohol.
8. The spouses both agree to a divorce.
The reasons for obtaining a legal separation differ
somewhat, but also are limited.
Prominent fundamentalist Christians have given support to Covenant Marriage.
In 2004, Governor Mike Huckabee had a public tax-funded event where he and his wife renewed their vows…
Huckabee said too few couples have taken advantage of the covenant marriage option since he signed a 2001 law creating it. About 600 such unions were created in three years out of about 40,000 marriages that occur annually in the state.
In enacting Covenant Marriage laws, Christians who believe that the law should reflect a Christian majority seem to have gotten exactly what they wanted. They legislated a more binding type of legal marriage, and so successfully that the ACLU found nothing to contest. This is a Red State movement, based with a large majority of voters who identify as Christian and who say that religion matters to them in politics.
But when it comes to their personal lives, they don’t choose more legal restrictions. here are some stats from About.com…
The first year that the law was in effect, only 1% of Louisiana newlyweds chose the covenant vows. That percentage has increased slowly over the last couple years, but it is still quite low.
According to Scott D. Drewianka of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, only one-fourth of one percent of couples getting married in Arizona select the covenant marriage option.
Although Arkansas has one of the nation’s highest divorce rate at 6.5 per 1,000 population, the number of Arkansas couples signing up for a covenant marriage is very small. The national average for divorce in the U.S. is 4.2 per 1,000 population.
According to William Bailey, Ph.D., of the University of Arkansas, there has been a decline in the number of new marriages choosing covenant marriage licenses. In the time frame from 2001 – 2004, only 400 couples opted for covenant marriage licenses. In 2002, the Dept. of Health, Vital Statistics reported 37,942 marriage licenses issued in Arkansas. Only sixty-seven (67) couples signed up for the covenant marriage option. Twenty-four (24) who were already married converted to covenant marriages.
It’s worth noting that a couple visiting city hall doesn’t have to walk a gauntlet of people screaming names at them. They don’t get publicly shamed for choosing the standard marriage contract. No doubt many of them get pre-marital counseling, since it’s the custom with a religious wedding, and no doubt most of them intend their marriages to last a lifetime. Given a choice, they choose to retain their personal freedom to make their own decisions if the marriage does not work out.
It’s not that divorce is painless or without consequences. It’s not that the single life is so alluring that people abandon good marriages. It’s not that Americans in Arkansas are less responsible than Americans in states where the divorce rate is lower. There are forces in society that wear on a marriage– where the recession hits hardest relationships suffer. There are all the unanticipated things life throws at you, and a large element of luck. Arkansans may simply be too smart to make some lawyers rich if they suffer the misfortune of a failed marriage. So far, the Right has not found an effective way to shame these people.
It’s shocking to hear the language used against women who support the right to birth control as a standard part of women’s health, especially considering that over 90% of women will use birth control at some point in their lives. It may also prove to be an overreach, when the anti-birth control activists seem to be gaining political power to enact their goals, contrary to the will of the American people.