- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 14, 2004

A survey about cohabitation and marriage taken in May correctly predicted the support for a state constitutional amendment defining traditional marriage in Kentucky, but it also revealed conflicted feelings about how to handle marital discord.

More than 60 percent of Kentuckians said divorce shouldn’t be so easy to get, but 75 percent agreed that getting a divorce wasn’t as bad as staying in a “lousy” marriage.

It’s important to capture such “baseline” attitudes about marriage, said Claudia J. Heath, a family studies professor and director of the Research Center for Families and Children at the University of Kentucky.

If Kentucky decides to start a statewide pro-marriage program, researchers are well-positioned to track any attitudinal changes that might result from it, she said.

The research center surveyed 830 Kentucky adults about their attitudes on marriage, divorce, cohabitation and government-funded pro-marriage programs. The questions were similar to surveys conducted in Oklahoma, Florida and Utah.

The Kentucky survey, however, included questions on same-sex “marriage” and a proposed constitutional amendment that said marriage was only the union of one man and one woman and “legal status identical to or similar to marriage for unmarried individuals” would not be recognized.

In the May survey, 72 percent of Kentuckians supported the amendment and 72 percent rejected the idea of civil unions for same-sex couples. On Election Day earlier this month, 75 percent of voters approved the marriage amendment.

While most Kentuckians are against homosexual “marriage,” they are less clear about their feelings concerning warring husbands and wives.

A high proportion of Kentuckians — 87 percent — said divorce was a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” national problem, and 61 percent agreed that “society would be better off if divorces were harder to get.”

Still, 75 percent agreed with the statement, “Sure, divorce is bad, but a lousy marriage is even worse.”

Personal happiness even trumped children: Sixty-nine percent disagreed with the statement, “When there are children in the family, parents should stay married even if they do not get along.”

The topic of what to do when marital relationships break down draws a lot of attention from marriage-education leaders like Diane Sollee.

It is important for states to offer public service campaigns on marriage, said Ms. Sollee, director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education and founder of the annual “Smart Marriages” conferences.

If people start understanding there are things they can do to “master” marriage — such as improve their communication, set goals together and revive their intimate relationships — they will learn how to do it, Ms. Sollee said.

The Kentucky survey showed that 64 percent of adults approved of the idea of a statewide pro-marriage initiative, but only 43 percent said they would personally consider “using relationship education such as workshops, or classes, to strengthen your relationship.”

Also in the survey, 55 percent of respondents rejected cohabitation, saying it was not right for “romantically involved people who are not married to live together. But among Kentuckians in the prime cohabiting ages of 18 to 29, 65 percent said it was OK.

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