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Covenant Marriages (CM)

History: origins and decline

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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. 2

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.

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It is doubtful that CM will have much impact on the North American divorce rate:

bulletLouisiana introduced CMs in 1997; Arizona in 1998 and Arkansas in 2001. The movement then seems to have grounded to a halt. As of the end of 2007, no additional states had passed enabling legislation. CM is not an option in the remaining 47 states, or in the District of Columbia, or in Canada.
bulletOnly a very small percentage of couples in these three states are choosing CMs:
bullet2% in the case of Louisiana in the years immediately following the passage of their law. 3
bulletBy the end of 2001, "Fewer than 3 percent of couples who marry in Louisiana and Arizona take on the extra restrictions of marriage by covenant. 4
bulletAbout.com quote Scott D. Drewianka of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as saying that only % "of couples getting married in Arizona select the covenant marriage option." 5
bulletThe Department of Health & Vital Statistics in Arkansas reported that 67 couples signed up for covenant marriages in 2002. This represented 0.18% of the 37,942 marriage licenses issued that year. In addition, 24 married couples converted to a covenant marriage. 5
bulletDuring the interval 2003-JAN-01 to MAY-20, applications for covenant marriage licenses declined further. Only four new covenant marriage licenses were issued in Arkansas out of a total of 11,037 licenses, for a rate of 0.04%. The movement in the state appears moribund. 5

The vast majority of couples prefer "ordinary" marriage with its access to easy, no-fault 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:

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

  1. "The First Covenant Marriage Proposal: Debate on Mazeaud Proposal in the French Civil Code Reform Commission, 1947," DivorceReform.org, at: http://www.divorcereform.org/
  2. 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
  3. "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 Demographic 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: 
  4. "Covenant Marriages," National Center for Policy Analysis," 2001-DEC-05, at: http://www.ncpa.org/
  5. Sheri & Bob Stritof, "Covenant Marriage Statistics," About.com, at: http://marriage.about.com/

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Copyright 2001 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-DEC-12
Latest update: 2008-JAN-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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