Dads Against the Divorce Industry

DA*DI is devoted to reinstating the societal valuation of Marriage and the traditional, nuclear American Family, with particular emphasis on the essential role of FATHERS.

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Convenant marriage foes fail to make their point

by Cathy Young

A few years ago, as the no-fault divorce debate was beginning to brew, Reason magazine ran an article suggesting a libertarian solution: allow different types of marriages. People who want the option of easy divorce could still have it. Others, who hold a more traditional view and do not want enter a union that can be easily dissolved, could have the law solemnize their intentions.

   I doubt that Tony Perkins, the Republican legislator who sponsored Louisiana's "covenant marriage" law, is a libertarian. But the principle is the same as in the Reason proposal: allowing people to choose between standard marriage and a more binding kind. In a "covenant marriage," you cannot get a divorce without marital counseling and without proof of serious wrongs by your spouse - adultery, physical abuse, abandonment of at least a year or imprisonment for a felony - or a two-year separation.

   Starting Aug. 15, every couple getting a marriage license in Louisiana is offered this option; couples already married can renew their vows in a covenant marriage. A similar law is being considered in Ohio.

   This simple idea has a lot of people upset. Terry O'Neill, president of the Louisiana chapter of the National Organization for Women, says the law will hurt women (while Rep. Perkins insists it will protect wives). Lynne Gold-Bikin of the American Bar Association sees an insidious attempt to do away with no-fault divorce by stealth, against the wishes of the people - though Americans who want quick divorces to remain available can simply decline the covenant marriage option. Nadine Strossen of the American Civil Liberties Union deplores the government forcing people to stay together.

   But does the law really force anyone to do anything? Yes, critics say: By setting up one form of wedlock as Marriage Lite and the other as Marriage Premium, the state will, as Gold-Bikin put it, "embarrass" couples into choosing the latter. No one will dare tell a future mate, "I love you, honey, but I want an easy way out." (As usual, most commentators seem to assume that the man would want to say it - though women today take a more positive view of divorce than men, and initiate most divorces.)

   Ironically, this criticism seems to grant no-fault divorce opponents their main point: a marriage that is more difficult to end is more "real."

   On Crossfire, Strossen worried about "governmental pressure for people to make uninformed, unknowing decisions to enter into marriage relationships which are much harder to get out of when they don't know the consequences." But that's simply inaccurate: The law requires couples opting for the covenant marriage to get premarital counseling in which the implications of the step they are taking will be fully explained.

   In fact, the first day that covenant marriage was available, it found no takers. Most people said they were not planning to get divorced but found the premarital counseling to be too much of a hassle. So far, the intimidation doesn't seem to be working - though if covenant marriage catches on in a big way, men and women who opt for standard marriage may feel somewhat defensive. Which is still not the same as being forced.

   Others have argued that the requirements of pre-divorce counseling and a waiting period will endanger battered wives, who need a quick, sometimes secret exit. That's another red herring: while it may take longer for a divorce to be formalized, the law certainly won't stop either spouse from leaving the home.

   It is also worth noting that where there is no clear fault but the marital bond has irretrievably broken down, the covenant marriage law is hardly draconian: a two-year separation is all it takes for the marriage to end.

   Opponents of tougher divorce laws usually protest that, of course, they want marriages to be stronger. But when a law that seeks to build stronger marriages while preserving choice causes all this alarm, one begins to wonder if they are sincere.

Cathy Young is vice-president of the Women's Freedom Network. You may write her at The News, Editorial Page, 615 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit, Mich. 48226.

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