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U.S. News Archive
April 28 - April 30, 2000

 

 

 
 

 

This page contains news for the period Friday, April 28, 2000 through Sunday, April 30, 2000.

 

 

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Sunday, April 30, 2000


States experimenting with new marriage programs

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 marital course.

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 poor.

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 government's.''

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.

 

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