WETZSTEIN: Covenant marriage works

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Eleven years ago, a handful of Louisiana lawmakers convinced their colleagues to legalize a new kind of divorce-resistant marriage called “covenant marriage.”

A study was conducted between 1999 and 2004, and a verdict is now in: Covenant-marriage couples are much less likely to divorce.

The data is “pretty clear,” said Laura Sanchez, associate professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University and one of the study researchers.

While there were questions early on, “we followed them far enough along to establish that they really do have lower divorce rates,” she told me recently.

What does this mean for the nation?

Simply put, it shows that if lawmakers set up ground rules for marriage that require premarital counseling, a written pledge to “take all reasonable steps” to preserve the marriage, and set stricter grounds for divorce, some couples will choose covenant marriage — and flourish because of it.

Does this mean covenant marriage is about to sweep the nation?

Not likely. Louisiana’s law passed Aug. 15, 1997, and Arizona and Arkansas passed their laws shortly thereafter. But while at least 20 states have dabbled with the idea, none have followed suit.

Instead, said Ms. Sanchez, states have adopted “pieces of the law,” such as discounting marriage-license fees for couples who obtain premarital counseling.

The full story is in a new book, “Covenant Marriage: The Movement to Reclaim Tradition in America,” from Rutgers University Press.

Once Louisiana enacted covenant marriage, sociologists jumped at the chance to see how “covenant couples” compared to couples with “standard” marriages, which in that state can be dissolved in six months.

University of Central Florida sociology professor James D. Wright conducted the study with Ms. Sanchez and University of Virginia sociology professor Steven L. Nock, who died in January after a battle with diabetes.

Their study involved about 600 couples, half with covenant marriages and half with standard marriages. The 1,200 husbands and wives were interviewed as newlyweds and at the two-year and five-year marks.

By the end of the study, 8.6 percent of covenant couples were divorced, compared with 15.4 percent of couples with standard marriages.

From the beginning, there was a big difference between couples, Ms. Sanchez said. Covenant couples were more likely to be religious and believe in lifelong marriage, and less likely to have cohabited before marriage or have any children, she said.

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About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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