Covenant Marriages (CM)
History: origins and decline
History of covenant marriage:
The Roman Catholic Church has had a form of very
restrictive CM in place for centuries. It is the only option that
they offer. Once married, the couple can obtain a civil divorce. However, the
church still regards them as being married. Marriage is intended for life. In
certain cases, an annulment can be granted, but only if it can be proved that no
legitimate marriage was ever originally entered into. Perhaps the priest's license had
expired, or one of the spouses planned to remain childless, or one of the spouses
did not fully accept the permanent nature of marriage.
Henri Mazeaud proposed a form of CM to the French Civil
Code Reform Commission in France during 1947. It would have added a clause
to the marriage code: "A divorce cannot be pronounced unless at the time of
the celebration of the marriage the spouses did not declare that they were
contracting a marriage that was indissoluble by divorce. This declaration is
received by the officer of the state who registers the marriage." He felt
that spouses should be free to choose whether they wanted to enter a marriage
that would allow a divorce or one that was indissoluble. It would force the
couple to openly declare their concept of marriage before they married.
Mazeaud agreed during discussion before the Commission that some divorces
could be beneficial to the individuals. But he felt that it was always bad for
society. Divorce would be impossible for those who have declared their marriage
to be indissoluble. If there were no "exit door offered by divorce,
everything would have been worked out." But they always remained the option
that the couple could separate and live apart if the relationship were to break
down. Mazeaud's proposal was rejected by a vote of 9 to 12. 1
In 1995, Christopher Wolfe was a professor of political science at
Marquette University and president of the American Public Philosophy
Institute. He resurrected Mazeaud's concept in an article published in
First Things during 1995 -- a conservative Catholic publication. He noted that the current law, which permits
divorce, "...does not permit people to really bind themselves to a
permanent and exclusive marriage, by reinforcing the personal commitment with
the force of the law." Given the option, "...they might choose not just
to "commit" themselves to their spouses, but to "bind" themselves to their
spouses. Why should they be precluded from adopting such a strategy?" His
proposal, which he was uncertain should be implemented, would still allow for
marital separation. However, it would not allow remarriage for either party.
The first CM law became effective on
1997-AUG-15 in Louisiana. It was far less stringent than either of the proposals
by Mazeaud or Wolfe. It required the couple to sign a statement of intent,
recite a declaration and show that they had completed a course in premarital
counseling. A divorce would be granted if fault could be proven on the part of
one spouse: having committed adultery, being imprisoned for a felony, abandoned
the matrimonial home for at least a year, or committed sexual or physical abuse
on a family member. Alternatively, the couple can obtain a divorce if they had
lived apart for a long interval.
This was a unique experiment. It was the first
instance where couples had a choice from among two marriage types.
The second CM law was signed into
law by the Governor of Arizona on 1998-MAY-21. It is a weakened version of the
Louisiana law. It allows for a divorce if both spouses as for it.
A third CM law came into force in
Arkansas in 2001. It is similar to the Louisiana law.
Many attempts have been made since to pass similar
laws in other states. None have succeeded.
It is doubtful that CM will have much impact on the North American divorce rate: