[Paleopsych] NYT: Trying to Strengthen an 'I Do' With a More Binding Legal Tie
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Thu Apr 14 19:35:34 UTC 2005
Trying to Strengthen an 'I Do' With a More Binding Legal Tie
February 15, 2005
[I am not merely in favor of this but think only responsible parents
should have children. I mean parents who can provide a good education,
insure themselves against death and disability, and whose offspring will
have the genetic wherewithal to lead productive lives. This should be a
state and county issue. I parents were responsible, we would no longer
need government education, and the efficiency of schooling would go way
up. Irresponsible parents having children is by far the greatest negative
externality (public bad) that exists.]
By RICK LYMAN
LITTLE ROCK, Ark., Feb. 14 - In front of more than 5,000 cheering
constituents in a North Little Rock sports arena, Gov. Mike Huckabee
took the former Janet McCain to be his lawfully wedded wife Monday
night, just as he did nearly 31 years ago, for better or for worse, in
sickness and in health, until death do them part.
This time, although the actual vows were not repeated, the emphasis
was clearly on the "until death" pledge.
Upgrading their vows to that of a covenant marriage, a legally binding
contract available only in Arkansas, Arizona and Louisiana, the
Huckabees hope to jump-start a conservative movement that has shown
little sign of moving in recent years. A covenant marriage commits a
couple to counseling before any separation and limits divorce to a
handful of grounds, like adultery or abuse.
"I know that some people have thought this whole thing is cynical,
that it's some sort of marriage-plus or high-octane marriage," Mr.
Huckabee, a Republican and a former Baptist minister, said in an
interview before the ceremony. "I think people enter into covenant
marriage not because they want a super marriage, but because they
understand that marriage is fragile."
The Huckabees' ceremony was only the most prominent of a series of
events organized over the Valentine's Day weekend by covenant marriage
supporters who say they sense that the time is right to reinvigorate
their stalled movement.
No state has adopted a covenant marriage law since Arkansas in 2001,
while two dozen have considered the idea and declined to embrace it.
Even in the three states where it is legal, it is not mandatory and
only small numbers of couples have opted for it, somewhere from 1
percent to 2 percent, according to studies.
"Truth is, it's not been much of a movement," said Steven Mintz,
co-chairman of the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit
organization of academics and clinicians who study family issues.
But now, after President Bush won a victory that many attribute, in
part, to his championing of traditional family values, proponents of
covenant marriage sense an opportunity and say they can bring to the
movement the same energy that opponents of same-sex-marriage brought
to outlaw it in 11 states last year.
"The numbers haven't been real high yet," said Len Munsil, president
of the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative religious group, and
a strong supporter of covenant marriage. "It did stall a little bit.
The debate over same-sex marriage has taken a lot of attention."
Some proponents of covenant marriage say they see the two debates as
related, that fighting same-sex marriage is part of a larger effort to
strengthen traditional marriage. The event Monday night, held at the
Alltel Arena, site of local basketball and hockey games and the
occasional concert, was billed as Arkansas's first "Celebration of
Marriage." Besides the governor's renewed nuptials there were speeches
from national religious leaders and songs by the gospel and pop singer
Pastors held aloft signs ("New Life Church") and friends waved to one
another from across the cavernous room.
Mr. and Mrs. Huckabee, who met as children in Hope, Ark., and had
three children in their three decades of marriage, the only marriage
for both, had undergone the pre-ceremony counseling mandated by
Running across the foot of the stage was a banner reading, "Passion
transformation intimacy oneness covenant."
At one point, as the governor was telling the crowd how easy it would
be to convert their marriages to covenant ones, a whistle sounded and
about two dozen protesters for gay rights rose in the back of the
hall, unfurling a banner reading, "Queer equality now."
Governor Huckabee ignored them, the crowd tried to cheer the governor
to drown them out and the police arrived to escort them quickly from
The ceremony itself was quick and bureaucratic. The governor and his
wife took the stage along with the Pulaski County clerk, Pat O'Brien.
There was no fresh recitation of the wedding vows, just three simple
questions: Had they sought counseling before taking this step? Had
they had the proper affidavit notarized? Did they have a copy of their
marriage license and that affidavit?
"Yes," the governor said.
Mr. O'Brien reached into his jacket and said, "Well, I just happen to
have a stamp here."
He clicked the affidavit once, and that was it. The audience roared to
Covenant marriage was born out of growing concern about the rise of
single-parent families, especially among the poor, and unease among
conservatives about no-fault divorce laws, which they say make it too
easy to end a marriage.
There is also some embarrassment among religious and political leaders
in the Bible Belt that many of its states, including Arkansas, have
some of the nation's highest divorce rates.
"We really feel the no-fault culture has been destructive," said
Dennis Rainey, president of Family Life, a Christian group based in
Little Rock. "There's something wrong when it's easier to get out of a
marriage than it is to get out of a contract to buy a used car."
Governor Huckabee preferred, in an interview, to emphasize the
financial impact of broken homes.
"If you start adding up the various costs - the costs of child-support
enforcement, additional costs in human services, how many kids will go
onto food stamps - it all adds up," he said. "With that kind of money,
we could pay for a lot of teachers' salaries."
The drive for covenant marriage is part of a broader movement to
promote marriage and stable families. Mr. Bush, for example, has
included in his new budget more than $200 million for programs that
"develop innovative approaches to promote healthy marriages," and to
promote "family formation and healthy marriage activities."
But a White House spokesman said the president had taken no position
on covenant marriage, which he considers a state issue.
While no one speaks out in favor of more divorces, there are social
workers and experts on the family who wonder whether making divorce
more difficult will end up hurting children of dysfunctional couples.
"It's a kind of common-sense view among many in the field that
continuing dysfunction, conflict-riven marriages is not good for
children," Mr. Mintz of the Council on Contemporary Families said.
The first covenant marriage law passed in Louisiana in 1997. It
required county clerks to give a choice to those applying for a
marriage license to select either a regular license or a covenant one.
Under the covenant, the couples express their intention to remain
married for life and agree to premarital counseling from a counselor
or member of the clergy, and to seek further counseling before filing
for divorce. Also, they are restricted to a handful of legal grounds
for divorce; adultery, felony conviction, one year of abandonment,
sexual or physical abuse and separation of at least two years.
The law applies not only to those just getting married, but also to
married couples who want to upgrade.
A similar law was enacted in Arizona in 1998, although that one, after
lengthy legislative debate, included a provision allowing for a
quicker divorce if both partners agreed to it.
The Arkansas version, passed in 2001, is similar to the Louisiana one,
though it adds to the list of potential grounds for divorce such
offenses as habitual drunkenness and "behavior that imposes
Steven L. Nock, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia
who has been studying covenant marriage for five years, has found that
those people who go through it are about a third less likely to
divorce. But his studies have also shown how few people, when given
the choice, are choosing it.
"People are definitely not flocking to covenant marriage," Mr. Nock
"We've had it here in Arizona for about six years, and it's turned out
to be very little used," said Barbara Atwood, a professor of family
law at the University of Arizona. "I think people are wary of entering
into a relationship that might potentially have difficulties at the
far, unknowable end in a way that will keep them in it longer."
Proponents of covenant marriage see it differently.
"We've had it for four years, but a lot of people are still unfamiliar
with it," Governor Huckabee said. "Even some who might have been
vaguely aware of it were unclear on the particulars."
Mr. Nock's research backs this up. Only 40 percent of Louisiana
residents had ever heard of covenant marriage, he found, the same
percentage as residents of Utah, a state that has no covenant marriage
So proponents of covenant marriage have recently shifted their
tactics, focusing increasingly on individual pastors and congregations
as well as on lawmakers.
Proponents say one goal now is to recruit as many pastors as possible
who will allow only covenant marriages in their churches. That was a
reason so many ministers were invited to take part in Monday night's
ceremony in North Little Rock, Mr. Rainey of Family Life said.
At the same time, proponents have increasingly formed alliances with
other family advocates to strengthen marriages in other ways.
According to a 2004 study by the Center for Law and Social Policy, a
nonpartisan Washington group that studies family issues, 40 states
have provided at least some money to provide couples with
marriage-related services like premarital counseling, mostly on a
Nine states offer welfare recipients a financial incentive to marry.
Six are training county extension agents to offer family guidance and
marriage-related services. Five will reduce the marriage license fee
for those who get premarital counseling.
In general, most of this activity has been in the South and the West.
Governor Huckabee says that all of this is welcome, but that he still
believes in a strong focus on covenant marriage.
"Personally, I don't think of this as tied to any political agenda,"
he said. "I think it has much more to do with recognizing that we as a
society are paying a huge human price because of broken families. With
the votes on same-sex marriage last year, many states have said what
they are against. This is an opportunity to speak out on that which we
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