Alabamians Need Choice of Marriages

A Time Magazine poll (July 1997) reveals a lot about how Americans feel about divorce. In the poll, 50 percent of respondents thought that it should be more difficult for married couples to get divorced. For couples with young children, the figure rose to 61 percent. Ironically, asked if the government should make divorce harder for couples, 59 percent said no.

Professor William Galston of the University of Maryland explains our ambivalence about divorce in a Washington Post column. Americans, it seems, want greater marital fidelity, but not at the cost of coercive reductions in personal liberty. This is the essence of the dilemma of the nation with the highest divorce rate in the world. How can we as a society balance freedom of the individual with society’s need for strong family structures?

A new Louisiana marriage law allows individual freedom and satisfies society’s need for stable families. It may serve as a model for Alabama. The law attempts to balance antithetical social benefits, by protecting both freedom of the individual and the good of society.

Instead of giving couples one choice of marriage, under the new law couples may choose between the present type marriage, which allows for no-fault divorce, and a new “covenant marriage” which reinstates fault-based divorce.

Marriage evolved as a social institution which teamed men and women in a special form of mutual dependence for the purpose of establishing families. Families are necessary in society for many reasons, but primarily because of the length of time required for an infant child to reach adulthood and self-sufficiency. Marriage as a contract between a man and a woman has existed since ancient times. As a social practice, entered into with a public act, marriage reflects the customs, conventions, and values of society.

A custom practiced by ancient Hebrews, as well as other cultures, levirate, allowed a man to marry the wife of his deceased brother. This custom maintained already established family and property connections. Sororate, a custom still practiced in some parts of the world, allows a man with a barren wife to marry one or more of her sisters. Polyandry, while quite rare, allows marriage between a woman and several men. However, monogamy, the union of one man and one woman, is the universal prototype of today’s marriage, even in societies where other forms of marriage are accepted.

The fact that monogamy is the marriage of choice throughout all societies, including those with other forms of marriage, is instructive. It might be time for Alabama legislators to provide Alabama couples with another choice of marriage. A choice which acknowledges and solicits the role society can play in helping a couple keep their commitment, and promise to each other to remain bounded in marriage for the rest of their lives.

As of last month, Louisiana couples, both the not-yet-married and those already married, can elect to make such a choice. The new law worded the following recitation for a covenant marriage:

“We do solemnly declare that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman who agree to live together as husband and wife for as long as they both may live. We have chosen each other carefully and disclosed to one another everything which could adversely affect the decision to enter into marriage. We have read the Covenant Marriage Act, and we understand that a covenant Marriage is for life. If we experience marital difficulties, we commit ourselves to take all reasonable efforts to preserve our marriage, including marital counseling. With full knowledge of what this commitment means, we do hereby declare that our marriage will be bound by Louisiana law on Covenant Marriages and we promise to love, honor, and care for one another as husband and wife for the rest of our lives.”

When the Alabama Legislature enacts and Governor James signs Alabama’s Covenant Marriage Act, this veteran of three decades of marriage, along with present wife, Margaret, will be in a long line of Alabamians waiting to take the covenant vows.


Originally Published: 3 September 1997, Montgomery Advertiser

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>