Covenant Marriage: No Way Out

by V
Groom and bride

via Flickr

Do you remember when the anti-marriage equality crowd began to thump hard on the idea that the legalization of gay marriage would ruin the institution of mixed-sex marriage? One thing that many who did not agree with that said was that divorce does worse for marriage than allowing same-sex marriage would. Most anti-equality activists didn’t want to touch that. They mostly just said that yes, that was true, and that was why same-sex marriage shouldn’t be implemented, it would further weaken “traditional” marriage. They didn’t want to come out against divorce completely, presumably because there are so many of their own — in their families, their friends, even congregations in their churches — who had been through a divorce. Nobody wants to be told they might not be able to get out of a bad marriage should that marriage end up being a bad one, no matter how little they wish to admit it. And, they didn’t want to come out in favor of it, either, because that went against the Bible they liked to beat others over the head with.

Well, I’ve just recently heard of a movement that changes that. Apparently, it’s not a relatively new movement, but it’s new to me. And it may be gaining a bit of traction. There is a movement to implement covenant marriage in states. One thing that should be noted is that this is not really a banning of divorce, despite what some may say or despite what my post title suggests. However, it does severely limit the grounds for divorce. Mostly it seems that the grounds are as follows:

  • Your spouse is convicted of a felony that requires jail time
  • Adultery
  • Abuse

That’s it. Now, of course, if you move to a state that does not recognize covenant marriage, you can file for divorce without worrying about it. But, if your state does recognize covenant marriages and you are in a covenant marriage, you are probably screwed unless one of the above is there.

While I agree that divorce does, in fact, harm families — especially when children are involved — and that the laws being so lax on it now are probably what causes so many marriages to fail, I do not agree that making it so difficult to get a divorce is a good idea. I know this sounds kind of odd, in the face of what I just said, but the reason is that it takes away power from both individuals. There comes a point in some people’s marriages where they are just no longer happy. They aren’t in love, anymore, they spend much of their time arguing, and they just cannot come to an agreement on how to deal with their problems. Marriage counselors are often a great asset, but even this method does not work sometimes. It isn’t always an unwillingness to compromise, but an inability. It isn’t always an unwillingness to get along, but an inability.

However, not all such marriages include the type of grievances that are set aside in a covenant marriage as the only real grounds for divorce. This forces people to stay in marriages in which they are not happy and cannot find any possible way of getting along. It makes children stay in unhappy homes. Children who come from unhappy homes are probably worse off than children who come from a broken home.

Knowing the way that my parents’ marriage was, I’m glad that they got divorced. So are my siblings. We would not have liked growing up in a single house with two parents who didn’t get along.

Even if  you manage to hide your arguments from your children, they’re perceptive enough to figure out that something isn’t right. If I’m worried about what could be wrong, I’m also worried about whether or not I caused it. I never believed I wasn’t to blame.

Beyond children, why should anyone have to stay in a marriage which is dead, just because the grounds for divorce in their marriage are so strict and stringent? If one could be assured that all, or at least the vast majority of marriages would not end up broken, I would be less alarmed by the idea that so many people are now wanting the implementation of covenant marriage, or at least for it to be an option. Nobody is psychic,. With the rates for divorce being what they are, I don’t think I’d want to take the chance.

If it’s just an option, what’s the harm? You go into marriage willingly, don’t you?

I can see in my mind’s eye a lot of women being bullied into this because of religious expecations. Divorce is considered abject failure. Even Jesus likens divorce to adultery. His requirement for divorce at all is much more strict. Jesus drew the line only at marital infidelity.

Complacent people might argue that this is not even relevant. It’s not like any states actually do this … right? Not So!

Arizona passed a covenant marriage law in 1998, Arkansas implemented a covenant marriage law in 2001, and Louisiana implemented a covenant marriage law in 1997.

Covenant marriage legislation has been introduced in Alabama, California, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington state.

Nothing is wrong with getting married. Nothing is wrong with wanting to take steps to ensure that you STAY married, and give yourself incentives to work things out. However, when things end up not working out, I dislike the idea of someone not having a way out for either the man or the woman. Nobody should be trapped in an untenable marriage that forces those involved compromise their own morals and principles should they want a divorce under the rules of a covenant marriage.

What does this have to do with feminism? Marriage involves women. And, in some states women are allowed to marry other women. Being loving and committed at the time of your marriage doesn’t always mean that you’re going to continue that way throughout your marriage, and that possibility is not gender-specific. A lesbian couple could easily find themselves in such a position.

I read an article the other day about a woman, for example, who was in a committed relationship with her partner. She had lived with this woman as if they were married, they had shared a bed, and she had helped to care for her partner’s ailing parents, only to one day be told to get lost when her partner found another woman she’d rather be with.

Yes, I know. This is more of an example of why marriage equality needs to be legalized (this woman has no case for divorce court, nor probably any other court, although I believe she’s going to try for civil court for breach of verbal contract), or it might serve as an example of a lesbian marriage that would find grounds for divorce in a covenant marriage. But, that’s not what I’m using it to illustrate, regardless of the fact that both of those assumptions are true. It is proof that even same-sex marriages are not perfect, and while this is an extreme, I’m sure that some lesbian couples find themselves just falling out of love with each other, or just being unable to get along no matter how hard they try or what they do after so many years. This is true, too, for mixed-sex marriages. And when this occurs, there should be an out where one doesn’t have to compromise their own morals or principles to do it, or be forced to live in a loveless marriage that after a while feels more like a jail sentence than anything.

Nobody deserves that. Staying married, once you get married, is important. Sometimes, it just isn’t possible. And in those cases, people need an an escape. Religion shouldn’t force this, relatives shouldn’t force this, potential spouses shouldn’t force this, legal contracts shouldn’t force this, and people who abuse the laxness of divorce laws shouldn’t have bearing on this issue.

Additional reading on the subject of covenant marriages might be found at these addresses:

One Comment to “Covenant Marriage: No Way Out”

  1. This is the first time I’ve come across this post. I’ll try to pull together my two cents on the matters of covenant marriage and divorce.
    First off, my parents got divorced when I was older. That is, I was over 18. I’d known much of my young life that my parents were unhappy together, and had no expectation that their relationship would improve, regardless of what work they put into it. I can’t say that I ever really thought the failure of their relationship my fault; but I did feel culpable in it somehow, or that the weakness of their relationship reflected on the meaning of my existence (or, really, the justification or reason for my existence, since I saw myself as a product of their marriage). That isn’t to say that I was counting the days to an anouncement that they had decided to separate and get a divorce–I think I just figured they would always be unhappy together, and it would make all of us miserable for the rest of our lives, and that would be it.
    A few years after the fact, I’m relieved. Not only is the daily conflict gone, but they have both been able to grow and become happier in each other’s absence. The walls don’t seem to leak tension like they used to.
    And I’ve learned, through my parents’ example, that there is a solution to an un-happy, un-fixable marriage–divorce–and that there is nothing to be ashamed about. I’ve learned that my parents, who I always knew were unhappy together, did not stay unhappy together just for my sake. I’ve learned that marriage is about partnership, a connection, a relationship–a functional one, that is–between two people who love each other; and that throwing in the towel, when necessary, is ok if it is what will make us both happier (which is part of what makes us healthier) in the long run. I believe that a weak relationship in a marriage devalues the union more than having the option of breaking it; staying in a weak relationship, one that does not nurture both partners, one that is not working, devalues the meaning of the union more than the decision to break it.
    If marriage is such a holy institution (and, **historically**, I have to say that is a peice of horse shit; throughout much of history marriage was used as an economic tool to keep wealth within already-wealthy families, regulate the sexual behavior of women and to a lesser extent that of men, and of course to manipulate the direction of the family line), then how does staying in a loveless, disfunctional, hostile or even abusive marriage maintain that holiness? When the relationship that the marriage is based on is beyond repair, that “holy union” that is “sanctified by God” loses its sanctity. Don’t many religions teach humility? There is nothing humble about staying in a union while citing “leaving the union is against God’s law.” It sounds to me like putting the responsibility on God. It smacks of pride, to me. Pride, and fear of admitting failure; both of which have nothing to do with serving a higher power, as I understand it. Deciding to divorce strikes me as a humble admittance that I and my spouse have “failed” to live up to the standards of marriage, because we did not nurture our relationship enough, or did not choose each other wisely. And I don’t feel that my view on divorce means only that I have a higher likelihood of getting divorced; I think it means I have a higher likelihood of choosing my spouse carefully, of working with him or her to keep the relationship alive and kicking, and, yes, a very strong likelihood of choosing to divorce when all else fails.

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