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Additional information on marriage, divorce and covenant marriages

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Background: Marriage

Marriage have been in a state of flux for the past two centuries in North America:

bulletBy 1850, some state laws prevented African-Americans, mixed-race couples, gays and lesbians from entering into marriage.
bulletAfter the civil war African-Americans were allowed to marry.
bulletFollowing a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1967, mixed-race couples were permitted to marry.
bulletFor 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.
bulletIn 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.
bulletLater, two other states created covenant marriage laws: Arizona in 1998 and Arkansas in 2001.
bulletIn 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.
bulletOn 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 U.S. history.
bulletBy 2005-FEB, seven of ten Canadian provinces and one of three territories had been forced by courts to grant recognition and marriage rights to same-sex committed couples.
bulletOn 2005-JUL-20, Bill C-38 passed into law, making marriage available to all couples in Canada.

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Background: Divorce

The frequency of divorce has also changed since World War II:

bulletThe main reasons cited for the increase in divorce rates are:
bulletEasier access to divorce; divorce became greatly simplified after the advent of no-fault divorce laws.
bulletAn 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.
bulletChanges in social values. Divorce became a more acceptable. It is now seen as the preferred option in many bad marriages. 1
bulletIn 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 other ground.
bulletDuring the 1970's "nearly every state enacted some non-fault divorce..." law. 2
bulletPartly 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
bulletDivorce 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.
bullet"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." 4
bulletScientific American has a map showing which areas of the U.S. have low, medium and high percentages of divorced adults. 4

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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 of marriages:

bulletA 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.
bulletA 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:
bulletThey must go through pre-marital counseling before they can be married.
bulletThey 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.
bulletThey can only get a divorce if one spouse:
bulletCan prove that the other committed adultery,
bulletHas been sentenced to be executed or to hard labor,
bulletPhysically or sexually abused the other spouse or a child, or
bulletAbandoned the home for a year.

Alternatively they can obtain a no-fault divorce if they:
bulletHave been legally separated for a year or more.
bulletHave lived apart for at least three years and can prove that they have obtained counseling.

The laws that have been passed to date have a number of factors in common:

bulletExisting marriages are not affected.
bulletPeople with "ordinary" marriages can elect to opt-into a covenant marriage.

Some states have considered alternative approaches to improve the longevity of marriage. These include:

bulletAbolishing conventional marriages and offering only covenant marriages.
bulletAbolishing no-fault divorce.
bulletRequiring all couples to go through approved pre-marital counseling before obtaining a marriage license.
bulletAdding 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.

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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.

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Site navigation:

Home > "Hot" topics > Marriage > Covenant marriage > here

Home > Religious info > Basic religious info > Religious practices > Marriage > Covenant > here

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References used:

  1. Roderick Phillips, "Putting Asunder: A history of Divorce in Western Society," Cambridge University Press, (1998) Page 620. Quoted in Ref. 2.
  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:
  3. 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.
  4. "Divorce, American-Style," Scientific American, at: http://www.sciam.com/
  5. "Covenant Marriage Links," at Americans for Divorce Reform, at: http://www.divorcereform.org/
  6. "Covenant marriages gaining support, Louisiana poll suggests," at: http://www.virginia.edu/
  7. "Covenant marriage poll," at: http://lists.his.com/
  8. Darrell White, "Covenant (Marriage) Keepers," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/

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Copyright © 2001 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-DEC-12
Latest update: 2006-AUG-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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