NOTE: This report may be used as a sidebar to UMNS story #300.
A UMNS Report By Kathy L. Gilbert*
By Kathy Gilbert*
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
No Long Caption Available for this Story
When a couple says "I do," how much of a hand should government have in their union?
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 http://www.ncsl.org/programs/cyf/marriage.htm#covmar. # # # *Gilbert is a news writer with United Methodist News Service.