Interesting Note on Marriage in the United States

There are more states that have laws on the books allowing for same-sex marriage than there are states with laws on the books allowing for “covenant marriages.”

Oddly, no overlap between which states have which.

61 thoughts on “Interesting Note on Marriage in the United States

  1. Is it wrong to say, “I don’t get it.”

    I think the government should do civil unions only and let churches “marry”.

    But then that’s just the commonsense Libertarian side of me.

  2. It should be very difficult to get married, and very easy to get a divorce–not the other way around.

    I’ve seen far too many starry-eyed and/or horny kids jump into marriage to someone they really shouldn’t be only to end up miserable.

    Personally, I would love to see a law that required premarital counseling and a six-month waiting period. Would probably cut the divorce rate in half. Or at least require that for anyone younger than 25 or so.

    Of course, all the religious nuts would flip out about this, because they want people married off and breeding before they’ve even finished college. And there’s also the issue of shotgun weddings, too. But still. If we really care about keeping marriage something important and meaningful, it shouldn’t be so dang easy to do on a whim.

  3. And quite honestly, people who are going to stay married are going to stay married without a restrictive form of marriage, and people who are going to divorce will do it even if the obstacles are high. It’s something that isn’t law-based so much as it is a personal promise.

  4. Tal:

    “I would love to see a law that required premarital counseling and a six-month waiting period.”

    As it happens, the covenant marriage proposal in Kansas has premarital counseling as part of the deal. Not sure about the six-month waiting period, however.

  5. I’d expect it’s likely that there’s more laws *against* same sex marriage than there are for covenant marriage, for pre-marriage counseling, or for any sort of other actual protection for real marriages.

  6. Tal, I believe, is suggesting a law requiring pre-marital counseling and a six-month waiting period for any and all marriages.

    Kansas is only passing a law allowing for people to enter voluntarily into a convenant marriage – and requiring pre-marital counseling before one does that.

    Kansans will still be allowed to enter a traditional marriage. (Assuming the spouses aren’t of the same sex.)

    I’d like to see a state that offers homosexual unions, covenant unions, and five-year term unions.

  7. “I think the government should do civil unions only and let churches “marry”. ”

    But what if you’re not religious? I personally do not plan on being married in a church and I don’t think believing in a god should be a prerequisite for being able to “marry.”

  8. Again, let’s not have the discussion of whether or not the government should be in marriage business. I find it boring and pointless and orthogonal to the actual topic under discussion.

  9. The non-intersection of the legal approaches seems entirely unsurprising to me.

    People tend to “get the government that they deserve” (for good or ill), and more particularly, legislatures that are elected by their constituents will have the tendency to reflect the preferences of those constituents. Imperfectly, perhaps, but this seems like a case where it’s actually somewhat successful.

    Specifically, in states where constituents have a “religious conservative” leaning, we observe the emergence of the “covenant-style” laws, and an absence of “same sex marriage” laws.

    And in states with a “more socially liberal” leaning, “covenant-style” laws are absent, and we instead see laws enabling same sex marriage.

    It is quite unsurprising, and thus not particularly odd, to see this correlation.

    Whether or not the particular laws are a good thing or not is a matter I prefer not to touch with any kind of long implement. Whether the laws will be successful at what they are trying to do is also an interesting (and beside-my-point) matter.

    What is rather likely, however, is that the respective jurisdictions are successfully expressing the social preferences of their dominant constituents. Not necessarily a happy thing for gays in Kansas or for religious conservatives in Vermont, but there you go…

    As for the “religious nuts flipping out”, while there are certainly folks out there pressing for shotgun marriages, a lot of that takes place in places like Bountiful which *wildly* deviates from the norm. Most “not-quite-so-nuts religious nuts” have a preference for “courtship periods” rather longer than 2 weeks.

  10. I’m not sure I understand the purpose of the “covenant marriage”. I guess we all think pre-marriage counseling has some value, but that doesn’t appear to be the purpose. It appears to be creating a higher threshold for divorce. What is that “higher” threshold?
    And to what purpose?

    As B Durbin stated – you either stay married – for whatever your reasons, or you decide to divorce. I doubt if the “covenant” would change that. I might be willing to assume those who chose the covenant option would be more likely to stay married – although maybe not. If you need that extra lock on your marriage – maybe you are already headed for a problem.

    I think we should introduce temporary marriage. I think I remember a sci-fi show (80′s) where that was the deal. You get married for X number of years. At the end of the time the marriage dissolves and you can either choose to recommit or let it go.

    That would be more realistic to our current culture.

  11. I am a little confused how this is supposed to work given that each state can make it’s own marriage and divorce laws. After all, that’s how Nevada became a haven for quickie divorces before the rest of the country relaxed their divorce laws. Someone who marries in Kansas can get divorced in California under California divorce laws. Does this “covenant marriage” somehow overturn this?

  12. The point, as I understand it, of the covenant marriage isn’t really the premarital counseling, but the greater difficulty of divorce.

    The net effect of such restrictions is almost always bad for the women involved in such marriages, because they have a horrible time trying to get away from abusive husbands.

    Which is probably the point, in many of these cases. There’s a certain segment of conservative Christianity that believes that spiritual counseling/prayer/repenting is the best or only solution for people who act out violently toward their loved ones, and that those who are wronged by such reprehensible jerks are not being properly Christian if they don’t extend full forgiveness once they’ve supposedly paid their penance to God.

    This is the whole problem with Catholic leadership and pedophile priests, for instance. They refuse to believe that there is a serious mental illness involved that means those priests need to be locked up, and never given access to children again, and instead think they can solve the problem with just a lot of penance.

    Unsurprising, really, since a core part of this kind of Christian doctrine is the idea of redemption through God alone. Admitting that there are people who cannot be redeemed by religious methods would be a blow to their entire premise. So rather than protecting victims of sexual and domestic violence, they pressure those victims to forgive and support their attackers as they come to Jesus.

    It’s all quite horrible, really.

  13. “allowing for people to enter voluntarily into a convenant marriage”

    This is a rhetorical tactic, not a legal one. There is no obstacle to people entering voluntarily into a covenant marriage as it is except for *depriving* people of a right to divorce before the fact.

    Let me state that again: such law does not *allow* rights it *deprives* them.

    The existence in law of the covenant marriage allows a social stigma to be applied to non-covenant marriage, e.g. “If you really loved each other you’d be able to stay together, so you must not really love each other.” While notionally voluntary it’s another axis to define inside/outside the community.

    “Most Catholic dioceses in the United States have had similar requirements for a long time.”

    The referenced religious nuts are the kind of people that don’t consider Roman Catholicism to be a real religion, at least not real Christianity. (I contrast that with some people I knew in high school who weren’t sure that Protestants were actually Christian.)

  14. I don’t understand why divorce is constantly brought up as a reason for increasingly draconian pre-reqs for marriage. What is so bad about divorce in and of itself? It’s great! No one* wants to force two people to stay together if they don’t want to be together anymore. Just make sure you sign that pre-nup (or post-nup, or per-nup, or whatever).

    What folks find most objectionable about divorce, I think, is the potential it has to injure families, particularly children. Which begs the question, should it not be the replicating of genes that involves the counseling and waiting period?

    Of course, the Religious Right would be up in arms over such a notion, as it exposes certain motivations for maintaining the marriage status quo (like procreation: easy to get into, hard to get out).

    * Sans agenda.

  15. The article does not say how many states allow same sex marriage. The only one I can think of Massachussetts. There are probably more. I don’t really pay attention.

    I do not think that covenant marriages strengthens marriage. I think it will increase domestic disturbance calls since it is harder for people who don’t like each other anymore to get a divorce.

    I think Tiger Woods wishes he was in a covenant marriage. Would make it harder for his wife to leave him and take his money.

  16. The states open minded enough to have same sex marriage ought to also enact covenant marriage laws so as to not deny especially pious or committed gay people equal access to this special union.

    Perhaps the states should also issue ‘learner’s permits,’ so the couple is legally sanctioned (and encouraged) to @($* like minks for a fixed period of time so they have a chance to calm down and find out if they really have enough in common to go get a marriage license without an expiration date.

  17. Tal@3:
    I’ve seen far too many starry-eyed and/or horny kids jump into marriage to someone they really shouldn’t be only to end up miserable.

    I’ve also seen people whose engagement was greeted with a chorus of “are you two fraking high?” that are going strong to this day. If you’ll excuse me, I really think the state should stay the hell out of the psychological counselling as a precondition to marriage business. If you think that’s a good idea, go to.

  18. Also, I don’t think the state should be making it any harder for people to get out of an abusive marriage than it already is — and that’s already pretty damn hard.

  19. Guess @ 18: Five: New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont. DC’s same-sex marriage law is expected to take effect March 3.

    Covenant divorces are a terrible idea. I hope there’s some loophole for abuse, but even so, if a spouse is an abuse victim, how likely is it for them to be able to find and hire a lawyer to execute that loophole? I think Virginia’s waiting period for divorces is bad enough (for no fault it’s six months if you don’t have minor children, one year if you do; it’s only immediate if you can prove adultery).

  20. One can, however, move to a state that doesn’t have this restriction on the book, and apply for divorce under that state’s laws as soon as you’re a resident there.

    Taking kids with you and doing that is often seen as a custody party foul, but if you have no kids it’s clean and simple. If the state is neighboring / nearby, less problem with kids, especially if you aren’t contesting visitation.

  21. So, straights in those states now have *two* options for marriage (talk about redefining marriage), while gays and lesbians still have, oh, none, and no guarantee of recognition in other states or by the federal government. Interesting.

  22. It should be very difficult to get married, and very easy to get a divorce–not the other way around.

    How much easier should it be to get a divorce? All states have no-fault divorce and pretty simple filing requirements. Property disputes and children tend to complicate matters, but absent those, I would say it is very easy to get a divorce.

  23. If you leave out religion then marriage is just a contract between two people. There should be language in the contract on how to disolve the contract and what part each party has in the contract. Personally, I think the idea of the contact expiring after a set time is great. Think of the great ‘contract renewal’ parties people could throw. I think everyone who gets ‘married’ should have this. I think religious marriage should be left to the church and be the choice of the couple being married and should be totally separate from the contract. After all dont all states require a marriage certificate?

  24. Do people not actually read the two previous comments in this thread where I say I don’t want to have a discussion about whether the government should be in the business of sanctioning marriage? If not, why not? Because the thread is NOT THAT LONG, people.

    Seriously, the next comment along that line is getting deleted. Three strikes, etc.

  25. Steve @25: New York lacks a no-fault divorce law. If a couple wants to divorce without citing grounds, they have to sign separation agreements and live apart for a year before a judge can divorce them.

  26. Maybe when marriages come with a written warranty and an emergency “Cancel” button I’ll be interested in participating. Until then I’ll take my chances as a single human being.

  27. I have zero problem with people “putting their money where their mouth is,” as it were, about how important they say marriage is to them. That applies to both religious and non-religious marriages.

    It’s a free country!

    However, IMO since they’re creating these very special, state-sanctioned “high-performance” weddings that clearly are aimed at religious people protecting their idea of marriage, they should immediately let everyone in the state including same-sex couples have access to the “easy out” marriages. It’s only fair.

  28. I’d also point out that laws against domestic violence are pretty universal. I don’t think a “covenant marriage” will stand up in court as an excuse to beat your spouse. Ever.

  29. Ah, covenant marriage. The fail that keeps on giving failing.

    Matthew @ 16 – “The existence in law of the covenant marriage allows a social stigma to be applied to non-covenant marriage, e.g. ‘If you really loved each other you’d be able to stay together, so you must not really love each other.’”

    Bingo. (Although substitute “love each other” for “want to obey God’s Word”.)

    That’s not why this lovely sentiment made it into law, though.

    Local pols have a habit of proposing steaming heaps of useless legislation that let a lawmaker fluff up his conservative/family values/whatever feathers and preen over nothing. Nobody wants to vote for divorce, against children, or for creating Dr. Moreau’s island IRL.

    I suspect this is a common behavior of the lazy American legislator.

  30. @john: No people don’t read them. This happens in message forums also.

    you have had this blog for 12 years now. you know people don’t read them. you also know that people who want to complain just want to complain and definitely won’t read them.

    people like to talk more than they like to listen.

  31. These covenant marriage laws are really pathetic. In order to prove your fidelity to your religious concept of marriage you agree to give someone else the authority to force you to stay married? It seems these people really do feel that they require a higher power to force them to comply with their own moral codes.

    Or do they just want to pimp and preen about their devotion to their religious concepts? Didn’t their saviour say they where supposed to keep that in the closet? Like I said, pathetic. There are no good reasons to have covenant marriage laws on the books, and plenty of good reasons not to.

    Same sex marriage laws are pathtic also. What I mean is not that the laws themselves are pathetic, but that the fact that these laws seem to be necessary is a scathing commentary on the current pathetic state of our culture in this country with respect to civil rights. No additional special case laws should be required. If the current marriage laws in a given jurisdiction refer in any way to same sex marriages then they should be amended to remove such language. Gender is not relevant and marriage laws should ignore it.

  32. Darrell E @ 34:

    Same sex marriage laws are pathtic also. What I mean is not that the laws themselves are pathetic, but that the fact that these laws seem to be necessary is a scathing commentary on the current pathetic state of our culture in this country with respect to civil rights. No additional special case laws should be required.

    Can’t speak for the other states, but in Massachusetts there isn’t any “same-sex marriage law”. There was a court case in which it was finally officially pointed out that marriage law was discriminatory, and that the legislature needed to change the law. There was a whole lot of hemming and hawing, but the law was changed. No additional “additional special case law” was necessary.

    There was a long nasty little fight over changing the constitution — adding special case meta-law — to make discrimination constitutional. That failed. They may try again, but I doubt they’ll get very far. Massachusetts in now quite comfortably ensconced in the 21st century.

  33. My great-great aunt Em did not hold with divorces although she had several after her husbands ran off. Funny thing was that after she died they found several unmarked graves of unknown men on the farm. It is not clear if they were the missing husbands or just someone else and it was not clear if Em killed them or not. Harder marriage laws and easier divorce laws might have saved a few lives. Or maybe not. (If anyone is dating an Evans lass please keep in mind that Em is admired by a lot of my female kin.)

  34. There are two Americas, and very little shows that as much as this.

    I don’t know if this is what has caused the polarization in US politics or is merely a reflection of it.

  35. If there is no specific law you could put all that into a prenup, which would amount to almost the same thing as the covenant marriage, still easy to get a divorce but you might have to give up something. People can do this now if they want. Though for some reason the traditional marriage proponents seem to be against prenups, really they can be a way to make the marriage contract stronger and better defined, not weaker. You just have to think about them from a different angle.

    Though as our lifespans increase I think the expiration date marriage is going to be the norm. If we live 200 years, how can you possibly decide you want to be with someone for 170 + of those? And people will just naturally decide to not make that process horrible and instead to go a renewing of the bond every 10 years.

    Also, in a way the expiration date idea might make divorce less common since you may be more likely to just “tough it out” for the last few years, and then decide “we’ve been through the shit together” and your problems were not so bad in hindsight and stick with them. Or realize “no that was a huge mistake” but feel better about your decision.

  36. John, are you not execting the obligatory posting of “if you keep promoting same sex marriage, your daughter will magically turn into a lesbian and you will not get any grandchildren.” or something similar, which is what my mother heard when she outed herself as the mother of a lesbian…

    What is it with the obsession with grandchildren, anyway?

  37. It’s genetic.

    As someone who knows a fair number of lesbians (and gay men) who have children, I do not find this particular line of reasoning hugely compelling.

  38. plutosdad @ 38:

    If we live 200 years, how can you possibly decide you want to be with someone for 170 + of those?

    Speaking only for myself, it would be easy.

    I might be wrong, but I would be certain.

  39. Womyn2me:

    All the fun of doting on the kids, with the option of saying “Oh, look at the time! We’ve got to get going.” when they’ve had their fill of it.

  40. mark evans @ 36:

    *blink* *blink*

    Wow.

    I’m torn between “That’s fascinating” and “That’s appalling.”

  41. This is one of those rare times when I wish I was an elected politician, just so I could propose my state allow gay marriage — but only with covenant marriage provisions. It would be so worth the cost of the next election just to find out whether social conservatives or gay rights proponents howl louder in outrage.

  42. I’m sure this is not the intention of the sponsors of this kind of legislation, but I given the prevalence of really bad decision-making when it comes to marriage, I always thought we had it backwards—it should be very hard to get married and very easy to get divorced. The whole idea of a trial period (cohabitation) before “becoming legal” has never been a stupid idea, just, y’know, offensive to a certain kind of, well, retrograde semi-sapient hominid.

    Tangentially, all this nonsense of who can marry who and under what conditions reminds me of a joke at the end of the Seventies. “The Seventies was a time when no one wanted to get married except priests—and the pope wouldn’t let them.”

  43. This would be the second round for trying to pass covenant marriage in Kansas. The first was back in ’98, when the legislature was even more conservative than it is now. And the bill failed.

    Obviously, the pandering & posturing season has begun.

  44. #45 gerrymander: I like. My rep proposed legalizing medical marijuana here in Kansas just last week. If only she would hook it up to the covenant marriage bill…

    The general reaction to the covenant marriage bill among Kansas voters has been “Don’t you ****ing idiots in the legislature have better ways to spend your time and our money during a fiscal crisis?”

  45. Having just seen my sister through a disasterous divorce that involved her having to wait over a year before actually divorcing because of state laws, to horrible consequences, the sheer thought of a convenant marriage option making divorce even harder for women makes me physically ill. Obviously these politicians don’t care who is coerced and pressured into these types of marriages as long as they score points off of the far right 20 percent. If you’re in a normal marriage, and you have problems, you may well get counseling, so a covenant marriage is unnecessary if you are committed to trying to make it work in the first place, but forcing people to do so when they may well not be able to afford it is nasty. Not as nasty as the anti-gay movement, but still, nasty.

  46. I don’t get it. If it’s voluntary, why wouldn’t people (potential volunteers, I guess) just seek pre-marital counciling on their own, wait six months, and then have a pre-nup made up. Does legislation make them feel better about jumping through voluntary hoops?

  47. gerrymander @ 45:

    This is one of those rare times when I wish I was an elected politician, just so I could propose my state allow gay marriage — but only with covenant marriage provisions. It would be so worth the cost of the next election just to find out whether social conservatives or gay rights proponents howl louder in outrage.

    You’d propose changing one kind of unequal treatment under the law to a another kind of unequal treatment under the law? Is there some reason that equal rights proponents should like that idea?

    The reaction wouldn’t be outrage, it’d be eye-rolling at the sophomoric attempt at “cleverness”.

  48. Lunamoth — the legislation is primarily driven by fundamentalist Xians who have a very male-dominant female-subordinate view of marital roles. (Big surprise, eh?)

    As others have noted above, the basics are not much different than many churches require now for marriage within their churches. IMHO & FWIW, there is zero compelling reason to try to turn their doctrines into law unless they’re worried about people not obeying the church and wish to enlist the state’s aid in punishing those who break with church doctrine.

    And yes, we can take it as a given that those pushing this law would quickly require that marriages within their churches be covenant marriages. While the proposal may look innocuous and even silly (hey, if someone wants to do it that way, their biz) in practice it would become a doctrinal enforcement mechanism for said churches.

  49. First sentence second para in #51 should read “…the up-front basics are not much different than many churches require now…” Of course it’s not the up-front part that is the concern of the sponsors. They can already do that. It’s the back-end barriers to civil divorce they want as an enforcement mechanism.

  50. #27, oh fearless leader

    So, uh, what exactly *is* the point of this thread? Yeah, okay, more states allow gay marriage than convenant marriage. LOL covenant marriage, etc.

    I alternate between thinking convenant marriages are awesome and stupid. Awesome, because if religious types get their own extra-special marriage then perhaps they’ll shut up about gays taking over the sacred institution, and stupid because, if you don’t want to get divorced then don’t (and making and extra special super duper pledge that you won’t doesn’t really make it any more likely that you’ll be any happier in 10 years).

  51. Bearpaw @ 51: You’d propose changing one kind of unequal treatment under the law to a another kind of unequal treatment under the law?

    Covenant marriages are equal treatment for all purposes of law which gay marriage proponents agitate for: state and federal recognition, portability, and so on. They are essentially marriages under the common understanding and practice of the term prior to the 1970s.

  52. Covenant marriages are equal treatment for all purposes of law which gay marriage proponents agitate for: state and federal recognition, portability, and so on.

    Except, because you’re gay, we’re going to force you to make an extra-special super duper much stronger promise, just to show that you’re serious and responsible, like real people!

    If you don’t see the issue in that, then you are oblivious in the extreme.

  53. how fun – a group wants to “re-define’ marriage (the same group that is all in a tizzy about a different group allegedly ‘re-defining’ marriage) the hypocrocy is so thick it hurts.

    I know lets have a whole cornupoia of types of ‘marriage’ – same gender, different gender, multiples, term limits, opt-in’s, opt-out’s – the permutations seem endless.

    actually some of the permutations would make interesting thought-experiments on how to get around inheiritance tax laws and create dynasties.

  54. silbey @ 56: Except, because you’re gay, we’re going to force you to make an extra-special super duper much stronger promise, just to show that you’re serious and responsible, like real people!

    If you re-read my initial post, you’ll see that the entire premise is to get a rise out of both sides on the issue. To see if conservatives would kvetch even when all of their “seriousness of marriage” issues were addressed by removing all the slippery slope arguments. To see if liberals would bitch and moan about how unfair it was that gays would have to mean “’til death do us part” and wouldn’t have access to the cheapened, temporary convenience marriages they point to as bad behavior from straight couples.

    I raised the hoop, and you and Bearpaw jumped right through. Congratulations.

  55. I raised the hoop, and you and Bearpaw jumped right through. Congratulations.

    And there’s nothing more charming than the guy with the stick poking the zoo animals. Congratulations.

  56. JASONMITCHELL largely beat me to it,if we can have different kinds of wedded bliss I want short term ,oh say overnight ,marriage.5 dollar fee ,hey most states are broke,and your good to go.No more prostitution!
    Except I suspect it is a chance for the conservatives to say Yay for us and FU to the rest.

Comments are closed.