Two Types of Marriage?

This article was first published in ThinkChristian.

I ran across an article from RNS reporting in the first ten years it was available, only 1% of couples getting married chose a government-defined “covenant” marriage over a “regular” marriage.

Apparently in Louisiana (and also Arizona and Arkansas), couples can choose between two types of marriage licenses.

The first, favored by the 99%, is what most states offer as a marriage license, wherein a couple pays their fee, has witnesses and officiant sign off, and go home with a legal marriage that can be terminated with relative ease in a ‘no-fault’ divorce.

The second, a “covenant” marriage, requires more to begin and more to end. In this arrangement, a couple must receive pre-marital counseling, and if things get difficult, must by law undergo marital counseling before considering divorce. To finalize the divorce, legally, they must be separated for a minimum of two years and have weighty reasons for seeking divorce, such as abuse, infidelity, a felony, or outright abandonment.

Some blame the low adoption rate on clergy who have generally failed to promote the more stringent standard. Interestingly, the Roman Catholic bishops, for example, neither endorsed nor opposed the dual license legislation when it was passed 12 years ago, suggesting that all marriages should be life-long. Personally, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole thing.

I do favor the higher standard, and would like to see pre-marital counseling a requirement of all marriages, but does it make any sense to legislate it as entirely optional?

Does it make any sense for the state to offer two sorts of licenses for the same thing? It’s like offering two driver’s licenses—one with driver’s training and strict rules of the road and one without. If marriage is a civic institution worth regulating, why two sets of regulation? What value does the state truly place on marriage?

In the end, it seems to me to only reinforce the idea that marriage is a personal contract between two people, devoid of civic or communal impact or input. It seems we already have a double standard of Civic Unions and Marriages.

About the author — Rev. Dr. Steven Koster

Steven Koster is a writer, speaker, and producer with Family Fire. Formerly the Director of ReFrame Media, Family Fire's parent organization, Steven currently serves at Grace Church and consults on ministry through The Joshua Lab. He also leads a hospitality ministry at The Parsonage Inn and enjoys family tree research as time allows. Steven and his wife Deb enjoy leading marriage retreats and family seminars to encourage people in their most intimate relationships. The Kosters are the parents of three awesome young adults and reside in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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