Alex Blaze

Covenant marriage, same-sex marriage: let's call the whole thing off

Filed By Alex Blaze | March 09, 2009 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Alabama, Arkansas, gay marriage, lesbian, LGBT, louisiana, marriage, marriage equality, politics, same-sex marriage, steven waldman, tony perkins

Via Pam, the founder of Beliefnet, Steven Waldman, wrote up another "compromise" for same-sex marriage advocates to advance. This one, like the silly Rauch/Blankenhorn compromise proposed in the NY Times a month ago, asks for us to push for a piece of right wing legislation "in exchange" for same-sex marriage. (As if the Religious Right would compromise or could be trusted to take part in a grand bargain....)

Basically, Waldman says that we should be pushing for both same-sex marriage and covenant marriage.

A covenant marriage is a legally distinct kind of marriage that's a lot harder to end. Divorce can only happen for certain reasons, like adultery, abuse, or jail-time, or else a couple has to wait a long period of time to file, like two years. It's the brain-child of that modern sage of social responsibility, Tony Perkins, and has been implemented in three states that I'm sure we'd all love to emulate: Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

Waldman's idea would probably get some easy support from some same-sex marriage advocates who push talking points like "LGBT couples don't hurt the institution of marriage; divorce does!" But just because many LGBT people want access to marriage doesn't mean we should go crazy.

The rah-rah against divorce, I suppose, is meant to show how much we want marriage. Divorce is certainly an easy target. No one really likes to go through one, and the Religious Right has been pushing the anti-divorce angle for so long that many people assume that it's an awful but necessary institution, one that ruins children's lives, wastes men's money (via alimony), and throws men and women into the worst hell imaginable: the heterosexual middle-aged dating scene.

But while it's easy to hate on divorce, let's not forget that it's a wonderful institution that not too long ago Americans were fighting to make more easily accessible. It gets people out of abusive (both emotionally and physically) relationships and is often a sign of people changing or growing further apart. For some people who marry young it's part of emotionally maturing.

And, most importantly, no-fault divorce is part of living in a free society where both men and women are able to choose how they want to live. Because no matter how much we might think it's a great idea to force people to stay in a marriage they don't want to be in, they are the ones who should ultimately make that decision, not the government.

Covenant marriage appears at first glance like a solution in search of a problem. If both people in a couple really, really wanted to make their marriage difficult to get out of, they'd simply impose on themselves the rules that come with covenant marriage.

A couple in a regular marriage can say, "Neither of us is going to jail, no one committed adultery, and neither of us is physically abusing the other. So, even though we'd very much like to divorce, we're not going to."

Ta-da, without the help of the state, they have a covenant marriage.

But the thought that people might actually be able to make decisions for themselves is never satisfying for folks like Tony Perkins. Authoritarian-minded people think the state is needed to intervene on behalf of people's own poor character clouding their moral judgment, so they make up things like covenant marriage.

Waldman's other suggestion for marriage activists is that they support Tony Perkins's other proposals for making marriage harder to end. All of his suggestions, including covenant marriage, focus on making divorce harder instead of supporting legislation that we know will actually help people enter marriages they want to enter and be less likely to want to end them, like legislation that would improve education, increase access to contraception and family-planning, and redistribute wealth downwards instead of upwards.

We already know that people who are more financially stable, who marry later, and who have a better ability to plan their lives are less likely to divorce, so why do we think the only way to "strengthen marriage" is to penalize people who are already at a point where they want to end theirs?

Same-sex marriage is about promoting sexual autonomy and letting people decide for themselves how they want to live their lives, not about sending same-sex couples back to the 1950's where divorce was a dirty word.

Covenant marriage is the ideological opposite of what we should be doing, which is expanding the options people have so that they can choose the relationship rights and recognitions they need to protect the families they already have.

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Steve Waldman is the Walmart of religion. When he floats an idea I start looking for how he's going to make a buck from it.

The utility of making marriage harder to get out of is the hope that folks will think longer and harder about getting into it. I don't have any heartburn with making marriage more difficult to dissolve.

I suspect though that a two tiered system will perpetuate the domestic partnership / marriage conundrum. All the juicy perks will be reserved for covenant marriage which presumably will be for heterosexual couples only. Then we're back where we started.

Note that covenant marriages are a *second* kind of marriage, as well, and are present here in Arizona.

So the argument fails again, that they are protecting the sanctity of marriage, since they are, themselves, creating additional kind of marriage.

From Louisiana: You are absolutely correct. Tony Perkins was enabled in the "creation" of the institution of covenant marriage by a TRUE Femi-Nazi: Law Professor Catherine Spaht (retiring this year, Allah be praised). Our illustrious governor, Bobby "Who's Your Favorite Brady" Jindal and his wife made a big deal about entering into their so-called covenant marriage. Get the picture?

A. J. Lopp | March 9, 2009 11:10 PM

Alex, please stop! You make my head hurt because now I have so many things to remember! How can you expect white gay men to be clear on all the different flavors of marriage if we can't even agree on the difference between a "bear" and an "otter"?

Different flavors of marriage... I like it!

We should be specific when we ask for marriage: we want the regular kind, not the covenant kind!

When I finally divorced my husband in 1973, New York State (where I lived then) had just gotten itself out of the dark ages of something like "covenant marriage." Only it was regular marriage.

If I remember correctly, under the old regime, you had to be separated for two years before you could even get to divorce proceedings, and then only if you could prove "infidelity" or cruelty of some sort by the other party. New York also did not recognize divorces from divorce mills like Reno and some other places, as I remember. You can imagine the misery that this approach put a lot of New York residents through.

By the time I was ready to untie the knot, however, New York State had followed other states in recognizing no-fault divorce,; it also recognized divorce proceedings even in divorce mills like Reno and Santo Domingo. I got a divorce in one day.

1973. That is just 36 years ago. And in just that short span of time, a number of states are ready to veer back into the dark ages, ready to go back to that kind of marriage/divorce.

I dunno. This seems to bolster one of the few areas where marriage serves a legitimate government purpose. All the social science research shows that kids do better when their parents stay together (whether that be 2 dads, 2 moms or a mom and a dad - and as long as it's not an abusive situation), so making a divorce harder to get could be seen as improving the situation for kids.

If people want these and it's not made the only option for everyone, I say let them have 'em. But yeah, not as part of our movement. We've got enough on our plate already.

I wrote about covenant Marriage in my blog, from the standpoint of how the conservatives claim that marriage can not be redefined, and yet, they redefine it themselves. Covenant Marriage has been an utter failure in all of the states where it has been implemented and has done nothing to bring down the divorce rate. BTW, Arizona also has CM, but isn't listed on your report.

I'm all for wanting to lower divorce rates and encourage families to find healthy ways to stay together and be a safe place for children, but CM doesn't appear like it will accomplish that.

I also doubt that anyone on the religious right would agree to allow same-sex marriage in exchange for our support of CM.
My blog post:

Covenant marriage got very little media coverage. It is a perfect example of how the culture was headed away from the libertine spirit of the 1960's.

But you never heard the media echo the fait accompli that you hear with same-sex "marriage".
It was not touted as an inevitable trend that had to be implemented.

Various religious groups apposed the CM legislation including the Catholic Church. They understood that a menu approach to marriage only causes harm to a shared marriage culture that try's to insure children have a Mother & Father.

Better to reform the obvious social failure of “no-fault” divorce.