[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.]


    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
    CeCe Winans.

    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
    covenant marriage.

    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 hall.

    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
    its feet.

    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
    intolerable indignities."

    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

    Explanations vary.

    "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
    pilot basis.

    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
    are for."

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