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COVENANT MARRIAGE (CM)

A LOUISIANA STUDY

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Quotations:

bullet "Since its inception, covenant marriage has created controversy. Supporters think covenant marriage inspires confidence in marriage, nurtures commitment, protects children, and counters a divorce culture.... However, others argue that covenant marriage has created a variety of dilemmas for modern marriage and marriage law." 6
bullet "Covenant married couples have less complicated union and parenthood histories, are far more religious and traditional in attitudes, and engage in more premarital counseling and more positive conflict resolution strategies. Most important, they have substantially different attitudes about gender, the centrality of marriage, and the social duty to bear children..." 6

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A study of covenant marriage in Louisiana:

The Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio issued a report in 2002-JUN containing the results of their study of covenant marriage (CM). They compared a group of covenant and "standard married" newlywed couples in Louisiana.  The Center studied 538 couples who married in the state during 1999 and 2000 --  two to three years after Louisiana activated its CM law.

In their review of the literature, they found that some investigators have concerns about CM. Some have suggested that:

bullet Marital counseling requirements, lengthy waiting intervals, and the expectation that the couple will remain together at all costs places spouses and children in a failing marriage at greater risk for abuse.
bullet CM may reinstate the worst features of fault-based divorce.
bullet CM may create a "conflict of laws" problem: one state's CM legislation may or may not be recognized when couples relocate to a different state. If other states acknowledge the U.S. Constitution's full "faith and credit" clause then they would have to enforce a CM even if contracted in another state. This may result in a precedent that could eventually lead to interstate recognition of same-sex marriage -- a possibility that most CM supporters are very strongly opposed to.
bullet The entire rationale behind CM is that a couple cannot easily obtain a divorce. However, a CM spouse can simply go to another state to divorce. This could bypass many of the features of CM in their state of residence, such as long waiting times, the requirement for counseling, etc. More affluent couples could easily exercise this loophole; poorer couples might find it difficult.
bullet If there are two types of marriages, individuals and groups might pursue still other forms of marriages or unions in the future.
bullet Divorce based on marriage breakdown and separation might take considerable time to complete. This might delay spousal and child support, leaving some spouses and children in poverty.
bullet CM couples whose marriage has broken down may try to feign adultery or some other fault-based activity in order to get a faster divorce.
bullet When spouses, their lawyers and the court concentrate on assigning fault or moral blame for the failure of the marriage, they may be distracted from more important issues, like custody arrangements for children and the division of assets.
bullet Legislators might concentrate on creating CM legislation and thereby ignore other approaches that might have a greater effect reducing divorce rates. e.g. offering incentives for pre-marital counseling, courses in communication, courses in marital skills, etc.

There are major arguments suggested in favor of CM:

bullet Couples entering a CM will be inclined to take the marriage more seriously, because the procedure is more demanding and involved.
bullet Couples whose marriages are in difficulty will find that the legislation and their promises will make separation and divorce more difficult. They will probably feel pressured into making greater effort to preserve the marriage.
bullet CM may lower, not raise, the level of family violence because the abusing spouse will be shamed for his/her actions during counseling.

The Center's study, and others, found that the couples who chose CM had similar childhood and economic histories, age, education, courtship experiences. But the covenant and standard married couples differed in most of the other factors studied.

Covenant married couples, on average, when compared to standard married couples:

bullet Are younger: wives by two years and husbands by three years.
bullet Have greater educational attainment.
bullet Are less likely to have lived together before marriage (27% vs. 64%).
bullet Have less complicated union and parenthood histories.
bullet Are much less likely to bring children into the new marriage.
bullet Are more likely to have received initial support from friends and family when the announced their engagement.
bullet Are more likely to have engaged in premarital counseling (99% vs. 46%).
bullet Have developed more effective conflict resolution strategies.
bullet Are far more religious.
bullet They consider that religion plays a more important and central role in their life.
bullet They are less likely to be Roman Catholic (30% vs. 69%). This difference may be due to the Church's initial opposition to CM because the law required counselors to discuss grounds for divorce during premarital counseling.
bullet They are more likely to be Baptist or other Protestant.
bullet Find that their spouse is less likely to act with sarcasm or hostility.
bullet Are far more traditional in beliefs.
bullet Are more likely to believe that men and women are to play different roles in marriage.
bullet Feel a greater social duty to bear children.
bullet Feel that when they enter a CM they are making a political and moral statement to society.

The researchers conclude that the future will show that covenant marriage may be associated with lower divorce rates. However, an increase in success at marriage may be unrelated to the legal requirements of CM. It may be because couples entering a covenant marriage are quite different from those entering a "standard" marriage. They write:

"At the moment, covenant marriage appeals to a small, distinct group who differ in important ways from the average person approaching marriage. Based on the evidence we have at the moment, there is little to suggest that covenant marriage will soon appeal to a larger, more diverse population."

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The Covenant Marriage Movement has a home page at: http://www.covenantmarriage.com/
  2. As of 2005-FEB, same-sex marriage is still not available in two territories and three provinces in Canada. This totals about 13% of the population.
  3. "The First Covenant Marriage Proposal: Debate on Mazeaud Proposal in the French Civil Code Reform Commission, 1947," DivorceReform.org, at: http://www.divorcereform.org/
  4. Christopher Wolfe, "The Marriage of Your Choice," First Things, 1995-FEB, Pages 37 to 41. Online at: http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9502/wolfe.html
  5. "Covenant Marriages," National Center for Policy Analysis," 2001-DEC-05, at: http://www.ncpa.org/
  6. "Is Covenant Marriage a Policy that Preaches to the Choir? A Comparison of Covenant and Standard Married Newlywed Couples in Louisiana," Center for Family and Demograhich Research, Bowling Green State University, at: http://www.bgsu.edu/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 
  7. Katherine Spaht & Symeon C. Symeonides, "Covenant Marriage and the Law of Conflicts of Laws." 1999, Creighton Law Review: 32.

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Copyright 2001 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-DEC-12
Latest update: 2005-FEB-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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