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Debate: Covenant marriage

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Should covenant marriages be supported in preference to traditional marriages? Should the state promote covenant marriage?

Contents

Background and Context of Debate:

Divorce is an unfortunate reality of American life. Recent statistics compiled by the US Census Bureau show that between 40% and 50% of marriages end in divorce. Divorce can have a negative effect on society; accordingly, advocates of divorce reform have suggested giving couples the choice of covenant marriage. Thus, couples could either marry under the current “no fault” system in which either party can, at any time, dissolve the marriage, or they could choose to sign up to a covenant marriage option if they want a partnership that is more difficult to dissolve. Before entering into a covenant marriage, premarital counselling is required; counselling would also be required prior to granting a divorce. The first laws recognising covenant marriage were passed by the state of Louisiana in 1997. Arizona followed in 1998 and Arkansas in 2001; advocates are lobbying other state assemblies to pass similar legislation. The movement received considerable publicity on Valentine’s Day 2005, when Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and his wife renewed their marriage vows of thirty years with a ceremonial signing of covenant marriage documents, along with a thousand other couples. Governor Huckabee (an ordained Southern Baptist minister) is publicly campaigning to halve Arkansas’ high divorce rate over ten years, and sees promoting covenant marriage as an important part of achieving that aim.[1]

Abuse: Do covenant marriages have the potential to reduce cases of domestic abuse?

Yes

Covenant marriage might eliminate the problem of X husbands abusing their former spouses: A 1991 Justice Department study concluded that current husbands/fathers account for only 9% of the cases of domestic abuse. The rest of the abuse was perpetrated by former husbands, boyfriends or transient partners. Without divorce, women may be less likely to be involved with abusive men.[2]

No

Abusive marriages may be prolonged by covenant marriages: In a covenant marriage, a partner must prove that abuse actually occurred to be permitted to end the marriage. This especially worries advocates for battered women who say that proving domestic abuse can be difficult and the waiting period makes women stay in abusive relationships longer. In addition, mental abuse is not seen as a legitimate reason to end a marriage.[3]

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Yes

The offended spouse receives many benefits and empowerment in a covenant marriage: In a covenant marriage, the offended spouse is the only one who can ask for the divorce. This gives the offended spouse many benefits in negotiating the end of the marriage.[4]

A covenant marriage is a way for women to have more security in marriage: A women clearly has more to lose in assuming a marriage will last forever, especially if she puts her career on hold to care for children. Making this a more likely outcome through a covenant marriage is an important thing.[5]

Religious belief is only one reason to want marriages to succeed; society as a while has an interest in stable families. Advocates for covenant marriage, Amitai Etzioni, founder and director of the Washington-based Communitarian Network, says, “One can be deeply concerned with strengthening the commitment of marriage without favouring traditional or hierarchical forms of marriages or denying women full equal standing.”[6]

No

Some feminists feel initiatives for covenant marriage simply conceal the hidden agenda of the antifeminist Moral Majority: Liberal commentator Katha Pollitt, a columnist for The Nation, says covenant marriages “enforce a narrow and moralistic vision of marriage by rendering divorce more painful and more punitive.” Many advocates of covenant marriage laws are self-described conservative Christians; religious groups are major supporters of covenant marriage laws. Louisiana NOW President Terry O’Neill points out that “’Covenant’ and ‘covenant marriage’ are terms with a very specific meaning in the Christian community.” Conflating religious values with secular laws on marriage is wrong.[7]

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Yes

The premarital counseling by a trained counselor that is a requirement of covenant marriage enables the future husband and wife to get to know each other well: Issues such as how to raise children, how to split housework, and financial matters are discussed and explored with the counsellor. Covenant marriage are more restrictive but allows for divorce in specific circumstances: adultery; physical or sexual abuse of a spouse or child; abandonment of at least one year; incarceration of a spouse for a felony conviction; spouses living separate and apart for two years; and a legal separation of one year, or 18 months if a minor child is involved.

No

If partners enter a covenant marriage, they would not be able to divorce until they are separated for at least two years: People could get stuck in marriages and be unable to continue with their lives even when the marriage has produced no children and the spouses have no significant assets to divide. Also, covenant marriage lays the burden of proof on the spouse who files for divorce. A judge must be convinced that grounds for divorce actually exist. In addition, although a covenant marriage can be dissolved because of a felony conviction, a partner’s string of misdemeanours is not grounds for divorce.

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