A story published today in the San Jose Mercury News reports that
nearly a dozen states have recently enacted news laws and programs intended to strengthen
the institution of marriage.
For example, Florida lawmakers recently reduced the cost of a
marriage license for couples who participate in premarital counseling.
Wisconsin passed a law authorizing the state to wants to hire a
"community marriage policy coordinator,'' a kind of marriage czar, who would urge the
clergy to set requirements for engaged couples before marriage, like mentoring with a
long-married couple, and no cohabitation, or a longer waiting period.
In Arkansas, Governor Mike Huckabee, a Republican, has declared a
"state of marital emergency'' and is exploring a tax credit for couples taking a
Utah now includes marital skills in its high school curriculum;
Florida makes such a class a high school graduation requirement.
And Oklahoma's governor, Frank Keating, also a Republican, has just
unveiled a $10 million "marriage initiative'' program, including a
"scholar-in-residence'' to do marriage research and train people to teach marriage
classes at welfare, health-department and even agricultural extension offices.
The initiatives are attracting support not only from family-values
conservatives but also from some liberals convinced that divorce brings high social and
economic costs. Critics of the programs say government is meddling in marriage, even
though all the measures enacted so far are voluntary, relying chiefly on the bully pulpit
and ad promotions, like Florida's $32.50 off an $88.50 marriage license.
Oklahoma, Arizona and Wisconsin are using surplus federal welfare
money to finance the programs, because the welfare act encourages supporting all
"two-parent families.'' Some skeptics say the money should be spent solely on the
The new marital programs are in effect in about 10 states. They
include compatibility quizzes; exercises on listening, expressing feelings, giving praise
and arguing respectfully; sessions on financial, religious or family conflicts. Some
teachers are therapists or clergy, but some states train non-professionals to teach,
believing that couples relate better to them.
Wisconsin's program, modeled on a faith-based program called
Marriage Savers, encourages couple-to-couple mentoring and a premarital program similar to
that of many Roman Catholic churches.
"It's ridiculous -- creating a state bureaucrat that's going to
make all of our marriages better,'' Attorney General James Doyle of Wisconsin said of his
state's plans. "The role of the state is fighting drug-trafficking and crime and
having a good school system. The relationships within my family, that's my business, not
The critics of other states' marital programs echoed that view.
The marital plans are less controversial and morality-tinged than
the covenant marriage laws enacted in Arizona and Louisiana that allow couples to sign
rigid marriage contracts permitting divorce only because of adultery, abuse, abandonment,
imprisonment of a spouse or long marital separation. Covenant bills have been defeated in
15 states since 1997.
In Arizona and Louisiana, about 3 percent of couples have chosen the
covenant option in the past couple years. Critics of the covenants object to forcing
couples to choose between two types of marriage contracts, and they say they fear that
children could be trapped in families with bad marriages.