News Archives

Government and marriage: A union made in heaven?

5/29/2003 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: This report may be used as a sidebar to UMNS story #300.

A UMNS Report By Kathy L. Gilbert* By Kathy Gilbert*

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Federal and state governments are recognizing the value of supporting healthy marriages. Three states offer couples the option of a covenant marriage as an alternative to the traditional marriage license. Through a covenant marriage, couples undergo premarital counseling, promise to protect their marriage and have limited recourse to divorce. The Bush administration has proposed spending $100 million with a $100 million matching grant from states for local community programs that support healthy marriages. A UMNS photo illustration by Laura J. Latham. Photo number 03-198, Accompanies UMNS #301, 5/29/03
When a couple says "I do," how much of a hand should government have in their union?

Three states - Louisiana, Arizona and Arkansas - offer couples an alternative to the traditional marriage license. If couples choose the "covenant marriage," they are required to have premarital counseling, promise to take steps to protect their marriage and are restricted in accessibility to divorce.

Government has a vested interest in supporting healthy marriages, said Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services, speaking at a recent conference on marriage at United Methodist-related Emory University in Atlanta.

The Bush administration has proposed spending $100 million with a $100 million matching grant from states for local community programs that support healthy marriages.

"As a pastor, I certainly support people getting married," Eliezer Valentin-Castanon, an executive with the churchwide Board of Church and Society, told United Methodist News Service last summer. "But there is no evidence to support the idea that if you are married it will save you from poverty." He added that the government could greatly help single parents by raising the minimum wage and providing more funds for child care.

The Bush administration's "healthy marriage initiative" is about helping couples that choose to marry develop the skills and knowledge necessary to sustain their marriages, Horn said. "It is not about forcing people to get married, implementing policies that would trap someone in an abusive marriage or withdrawing support from single-parent households," he added.

All things being equal, children who come from "two-parent, healthy marriage households" do better than children who don't, Horn said, so the government shouldn't be neutral about marriage. "We're not neutral about home ownership. Because communities with a higher proportion of homeowners are more stable and have less social pathologies, the government provides incentives for homeownership."

Tangible ways the administration plans to encourage and sustain "healthy marriages" include premarital education (in which couples are taught conflict-negotiation skills), marriage enrichment and intervention for troubled marriages.

Louisiana passed the nation's first "covenant marriage" law in 1997. A covenant marriage provides an alternative to the traditional marriage contract for couples who oppose no-fault divorce or who want to demonstrate a stronger commitment to marriage. Couples selecting a covenant marriage must get premarital counseling. They may divorce only after a separation of two years, conviction of a felony, proof of adultery or domestic abuse, or abandonment by one spouse for a year.

Arizona's covenant marriage law was enacted in 1998 and Arkansas' in 2001. At least 15 states considered, but did not pass, covenant marriage laws in 1999. Louisiana and Arizona amended their covenant marriage laws in 1999. Covenant marriage bills were introduced in at least 13 states in both 2000 and 2001.

"Different types of couples choose covenant marriages," said Katherine Shaw Spaht, the Jules F. and Frances L. Landry professor of law at Louisiana State University Center. Spaht was also a speaker at the Emory conference.

"Those who choose covenant marriages are more religious, more conservative, more educated, and more traditional in their thoughts about gender," she said. "Women were the leaders in wanting covenant marriages," she added.

States do not require premarital counseling for adults who plan to marry, but some states are beginning to look at ways to encourage couples to take counseling or marriage education courses.

Florida's 1998 Marriage Preparation and Preservation Act offers a reduced marriage license fee for couples that complete counseling or marriage education courses. The act also requires public high schools to teach marriage and relationship skills.

In 1999, Oklahoma enacted legislation to reduce marriage license fees for couples that get premarital counseling, and Texas directs $3 from each marriage license toward premarital research and education efforts.

Maryland law allows counties to reduce marriage license fees for couples that have completed counseling. Arizona, California and Utah provide for premarital counseling for minors under certain circumstances.

For more information, see
# # #
*Gilbert is a news writer with United Methodist News Service.

Back : News Archives 2003 Main

Contact Us

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.


*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add to your list of approved senders.