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WETZSTEIN: Until death, or our term, do us part

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Recently in Australia, a marketing consultant pitched the provocative idea of a five-year marriage contract, with an option to renew.

The idea is that couples would marry, but only until their fifth wedding anniversary. On or before that date, the couple could renew their marriage for another five years. Or they could let the dissolution date stand, split the stuff and kiss off.

It's only a sign of the times, marketing consultant Helen Goltz explained in Queensland's Courier-Mail on April 24.

Lifelong marriages are becoming "a thing of the past," she wrote.

"We have fixed-term contracts for the buying of property, cars and insurance, but there is only one contract available for marriage and it is for life. ... Is it time to consider introducing fixed-term marriage contracts?"

Ms. Goltz's idea went around the world via news services and blogs, even though it's been pitched before. In 2007, a German lawmaker proposed a seven-year renewable marriage contract, and in 1971, two Maryland lawmakers, who were clearly ahead of their time, sought a three-year renewal marriage contract.

These ideas haven't been taken seriously thanks to no-fault divorce, which allows couples to split up in weeks, not years.

But in light of the increasing legalization of gay marriage, Ms. Goltz's suggestion is raising alarms. A world that easily casts aside the idea that marriage is the union of a man and a woman surely will take aim at the idea that marriage should be lifelong.

Marriage has many peripheral issues, but its "essential and central purpose" is to provide a stable framework for a man and woman to attach themselves to each other and to the children they bear and raise, said Jennifer Roback Morse, who leads the Ruth Institute, an organization that promotes the traditional family structure.

A short-term renewable marriage contract "is a terrible idea" for children, said Mrs. Morse, who is an academic and author. "Let's say we bust up the partnership at the end of seven years. What happens to the little joint asset that you guys created?"

"I have heard of the renewable marriages movement ... and I am violently opposed to it," said Louisiana State University professor Loren Marks, who studies religion, marriage and families.

One obvious problem is that a short-term marriage contract could easily end up as a self-fulfilling prophecy, he said. As with anything else in life, "if you go in with the idea that you're destined to fail, the odds of failing are higher."

For me, the idea of a renewable marriage contract conjures up many images, but none is more compelling than the political one.

We could end up with marital re-election campaigns.

In the early years of the contract, husbands and wives could dillydally, make environmental messes in the bedroom and run up credit cards like there's no tomorrow.

Then as Dissolution Day comes into view, the spouses could ramp up a mad re-election campaign, press the (spouse's) flesh, make all kinds of promises and explain nonstop why they should be returned to their (home) offices. They could even hire pollsters and hairdressers and image consultants to seal the deal.

I don't know, ladies and gentlemen. Every marriage has its bad days, and I always thought the "forsaking all others until death do us part" was a powerful promise that spouses would be there for each other, no matter what.

I say leave the marriage vows alone, and save the two-, four- and six-year renewable contracts for the politicians.

— Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at