The Covenant Marriage Upgrade

This just in from Topeka, Kansas.. well actually this article, titled Kansas looks to superglue some marriage bonds, appeared on Thursday in the Kansas City Star. Here is the way the piece begins:
Kansas lawmakers have a plan to put the deadbolt back in wedlock: optional “covenant marriages” that could be ended for only specific reasons or after a trial separation.

To break these bonds of matrimony, couples would have to undergo marriage counseling and live apart for at least a year. Divorces also could be granted after an infidelity or when one spouse has committed domestic violence or has been convicted of a serious crime.

Couples would have to undergo premarital counseling to qualify and sign an affidavit affirming that their marriage is for life. Covenant marriages also would cost more — $25 on top of the existing $69 marriage license fee. Already married couples could upgrade to the covenant marriage.
My first thought is that this might be a part of the full-employment act for lawyers.. there might be a bunch of unemployed divorce lawyers out there.. I just don't know.. maybe they need this legislation.

In theory I think that this sounds like a really good idea. Really.. who would not support beefing up divorce laws.. some may think that our current no-fault divorce statutes need to be strengthened so that terms like "irreconcilable differences" are not the norm for marital breakups. There are critics of the idea though.. the article goes on to say:
Critics contend that the extra obstacles could trap abused spouses or prolong the agony of couples who were never meant to be.

“We need to be in touch with reality,” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat. “Some people who get married discover they shouldn’t have gotten married. … I don’t want to force those people to stay in a marriage that is hurting them.”
So I guess we have to talk about the ugly subject of spousal abuse. I guess that is a concern that I have but it does seem that marital separation is not prohibited by the new legislation.. battered spouses could still separate from their abusers.

The real question is should anyone get married to a person who would not commit to a covenant marriage? A few weeks ago I wrote about Commitment Challenged Relationships and focused on SC Governor Mark Sanford's resistance to including a vow of fidelity in the marriage ceremony. In his case it seems that a covenant marriage was not an option.

Another issue is what happens to the non-covenant marriages? Do they become second-class marriages for people who cannot commit to forever.. or cannot afford the extra $25?Will Kansans one day think that these folks were never really married because they did not marry in a state-defined covenant?

Lastly I have to ask what this new covenant marriage would do to existing marriages where the couples choose to honor their first marriage vows and not upgrade to covenant status? I think many of those folks (like me) feel that marriage is a covenant between them, their spouse and God.. these folks probably would not feel a need to upgrade simply because the state passed a new law.. after all.. the covenant most of us want is not with the state.

So what do you think? I have been rambling a bit. Anything you want to ramble about?


  1. Poor Kansas is trying to legislate morality or even more pointlessly to create sacramentality. The marriage vow in and of itself is "law" enough - to take an oath, to vow to remain married through all things good and bad. Not a contract, but an oath before God, a covenant, a bodily promising.

    People without faith are losing their ability to understand the solemnity of that promise, because they don't realize the grim importance of a promise made with God's help, instead of a promise made to be honored with all earthly effort.

    I give them credit for trying, though, their hearts are in the right place.

  2. I will respond with the lyrics to The Secret Marriage by Sting

    No earthly church has ever blessed our union
    No state has ever granted us permission
    No family bond has ever made us two
    No company has ever earned commission

    No debt was paid no dowry to be gained
    No treaty over border land or power
    No semblance of the world outside remained
    To stain the beauty of this nuptial hour

    The secret marriage vow is never spoken
    The secret marriage never can be broken

    No flowers on the alter
    No white veil in your hair
    No maiden dress to alter
    No bible oath to swear

    The secret marriage vow is never spoken
    The secret marriage never can be broken

  3. I like the idea of encouraging couples to prepare vigorously for a marriage. I like the idea that this will stimulate some conversation between engaged couples to possibly uncover any misconceptions one might have or any reluctance that one party might have to making a full committment.

    But the increased penalties on the back end don't sound beneficial at all. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I was divorced from my wife of 26 years just 3 months ago.) I'd say that most divorces are only desired by one of the two marriage partners. And that partner will rarely want to do things like marriage counseling. They've already passed the point of hope, or they've already gotten themselves into an affair and are past the point of no return.

    Making a more-binding committment today sounds lofty, but I don't think it will do anything to help the ugly truths at the end. In fact, I think it will just prolong the grief.

  4. I agree with Dan, it's too late to act after the marriage has failed. I'd like to think that a pre-qualification process would be effective but I don't see how. I don't think that most individuals are in the right state of mind when they decide to marry; they are in love.

    Also, a covenant with God hasn't made marriage more successful since statistics show Baptists (29%) and born-again Christians (27%) have the highest divorce rates while Atheists are tied with Catholics and Lutherans for the lowest divorce rate (21%).

  5. "I think many of those folks (like me) feel that marriage is a covenant between them, their spouse and God.. these folks probably would not feel a need to upgrade simply because the state passed a new law.. after all.. the covenant most of us want is not with the state."

    I'm so glad you get this! Most people have two different marriages - one that is strictly a legal status conferred by the government (this is the one you have when you sign for your marriage license) and anther before your loved ones and/or your god (this is the one you probably had in a church). The two are so often conflated. The former is really just a legal contract between two people. The later most people see as a spiritual bond that is unalterable by the state. You can 'upgrade' (I'd consider it a downgrade) you legal agreement to a 'covenant' one, but that has no impact on the quality if your spiritual bond.

    Considering this, can someone explain to me how legal, not spiritual, marriages between same sex partners can be any kind of threat to spiritual marriages? Do people actually fear that the government can force your god to recognize marriages he finds illegitimate? It's laughable.

    Sorry for wandering off topic, but this is something that alternately baffles and infuriates me.

  6. @sid - I may post about gay marriage in the not too far off future. Until then someone else can answer your question if they would like :)

    I do think that the legal contract aspect of marriage is a part of the full employment act for divorce lawyers. I unfortunately have no alternate structure that I would substitute for it.

  7. Cool. I look forward to the post.

    It point out that government's deep involvement in the institution of marriage is problematic at best. Perhaps this is evidence that when church and state get tangled that it can be bad for churches too?


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