Additional information on marriage, divorce and covenant marriages
Marriage have been in a state of flux for the past two centuries in
By 1850, some state laws prevented African-Americans, mixed-race
couples, gays and lesbians from entering into marriage.
After the civil war African-Americans were allowed to marry.
Following a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1967, mixed-race couples were
permitted to marry.
For a few hours on a day in 1996-DEC
Hawaiian same-sex couples
were theoretically permitted to marry. However, the state refused to
issue marriage licenses. An injunction was obtained by the state a few hours
later, and the window of
opportunity was permanently closed. An amendment to the Hawaii state
constitution later terminated same-sex marriage in Hawaii.
In 1997, the state of Louisiana introduced a covenant marriage law
that, in essence, created a parallel form of marriage. Like conventional
marriage in the state, it is currently limited to opposite-sex marriage only. Unlike
conventional marriage, it makes it more difficult for the couple to
marry, and restricts their ability to
dissolve the marriage.
Later, two other states created covenant marriage laws:
Arizona in 1998 and Arkansas in 2001.
In mid-2000, Vermont introduced legislation to enable gays and
lesbians to enter into civil unions. These are essentially identical to
opposite-sex marriages, except that they are called by a different name.
Also, couples in civil unions receive none of the 1,000 or so
benefits given to opposite-sex couples by the federal government.
On 2004-MAY-20, same-sex couples who reside in Massachusetts were be
able to marry and have their marriages registered, for the first time in
On 2005-JUL-20, Bill C-38 passed into law, making marriage available to
all couples in Canada.
The frequency of divorce has also changed since World War II:
The main reasons cited for the increase in divorce rates are:
access to divorce; divorce became greatly simplified after the advent of
no-fault divorce laws.
An increase in the numbers of married women entering the work force. This gave many
women financial independence making them less financially dependent on their
spouse. They could make it on their own.
Changes in social values. Divorce became a more acceptable. It is
now seen as the preferred option in many
bad marriages. 1
In 1969, California enacted the first no-fault divorce law in North
America. Marriage breakdown as evidenced by "irreconcilable differences"
became the main ground for divorce; incurable insanity was the only
During the 1970's "nearly every state enacted some
non-fault divorce..." law. 2
Partly due to no-fault divorce laws, the divorce rate increased rapidly after World War II. It reached
2.1 per 1,000 people in 1958, 2.9 in 1968; it reached a peak of 5.3 in
1979. It has dropped recently to 4.5. 3
Divorce rates would probably have continued to rise in recent years,
if it were not for the drastic increase in the number of couples who are living
together without having first been married. This is a form of "trial
marriage" which most young couples try before committing themselves to
marriage. It often is terminated by a mutually agreed to separation.
"As of March 1997, the U.S. had more than 19 million divorced
people, or 9.9 percent of those 18 and over. The median age of divorced
people is about 50, and 58 percent are women. Among whites, 9.8 percent
are divorced, compared with 11.3 percent of blacks and 7.6 percent of
Hispanics. Divorce rates in urban areas are higher than in rural areas."
Scientific American has a map showing which areas of the U.S. have
low, medium and high percentages of divorced adults. 4
About covenant marriages:
Those who promote covenant marriages hope that they will change society's
conception of marriage. Opposite-sex couples in a committed relationship who
marry in certain states now have the choice of entering into either of two types
A contract marriage. This is the conventional type of marriage
-- the only one available in 47 of the states and D.C. All the couple typically needs is some money to
purchase a marriage license, two witnesses, and the cooperation a person
licensed by the state to perform marriages. If the marriage turns sour, they
can get a divorce under their state's no-fault divorce law, claiming marriage
breakdown due to irreconcilable differences.
A covenant marriage. They still need money, a license, witnesses
and someone licensed to perform marriages. But there are a number of other
restrictions. The law in Louisiana is typical:
They must go through pre-marital counseling before they can be married.
They sign a contract which says that they have chosen their "mate for
life wisely." The contract also commits the couple to seek counseling if
their marriage becomes troubled.
They can only get a divorce if one spouse:
Can prove that the other committed adultery,
Has been sentenced to be executed or to hard labor,
Physically or sexually abused the other spouse or a child,
Abandoned the home for a year.
Alternatively they can obtain a no-fault divorce if they:
Have been legally separated for a year or more.
Have lived apart for at least three years and can prove that they have
The laws that have been passed to date have a number of factors in
Existing marriages are not affected.
People with "ordinary" marriages can elect to opt-into a covenant
Some states have considered alternative approaches to improve
the longevity of marriage. These include:
Abolishing conventional marriages and offering only covenant
Abolishing no-fault divorce.
Requiring all couples to go through approved pre-marital counseling
before obtaining a marriage license.
Adding courses to the public school curricula to teach students how to
communicate more effectively, how to resolve conflicts better, and how to
improve interpersonal relationships, family life and intimacy.
The above descriptions are a general overview of covenant marriage. Do
not base any personal decisions on them. Covenant marriages are not
available in most states. States that allow covenant marriages have
various criteria for marriage and divorce.
Roderick Phillips, "Putting Asunder: A history of Divorce in
Western Society," Cambridge University Press, (1998) Page 620.
Quoted in Ref. 2.
"State Grounds for Divorce." California Research Bureau,
California State Library, at:
http://www.library.ca.gov/ You may need software to read this PDF file. It can be obtained free from:
I.M. Ellman & Sharon Lohr, "Marriage as Contract, Opportunistic
Violence, and Other Bad Arguments for Fault Divorce," University of
Illinois Law Review (1997), Page 719. Other sources quote slightly
different data. Quoted in Quoted in Ref. 2.