Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Arkansas Governor Promotes Covenant Marriages

Ark. Governor Pushes Covenant Marriages
Tuesday, November 09, 2004

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Gov. Mike Huckabee (search) and his wife plan to convert
their nuptial vows into a covenant marriage (search) during a mass ceremony
on Valentine's Day, giving a public push to the movement that seeks to
strengthen marital ties and make it harder to get divorced.

The governor, a former Baptist minister, said Monday he hopes more than
1,000 other couples will join him for the conversion ceremony at a North
Little Rock arena. Arkansas has one of the highest divorce rates (search) in
the country.

Covenant marriages, which also are an option in Louisiana and Arizona,
usually require pre-wedding counseling and allow divorce only in cases of
adultery, imprisonment, abandonment, abuse and after a substantial waiting
period.

Huckabee did not disclose the total cost for the Valentine's Day event, but
said most of the cost would be covered by contributions from participating
churches. He defended using some taxpayer money to promote the ceremony and
cover some its costs.

"We believe it's an important enough event to use this time and resources
for it because, quite frankly, we're spending an enormous amount of money
dealing with the consequences of marriages that don't work out," the
governor said.

Arkansas' marriage rate is nearly double the national average — 15.1 per
1,000 population compared to the national rate of 8.3, but the state's
divorce rate is among the highest in the nation at 6.5 per 1,000 population,
according to the governor's office. The national average is 4.2.

The proposed ceremony did not rankle the head of the state chapter of the
American Civil Liberties Union, which strictly monitors the separation of
church and state.

"I don't think we have a problem with it," ACLU Executive Director Rita
Sklar said. "I don't think it's Christian per se or religious per se. A
covenant marriage, as I understand it, is not necessarily a religious
event."

Huckabee said too few couples have taken advantage of the covenant marriage
option since he signed a 2001 law creating it. About 600 such unions were
created in three years out of about 40,000 marriages that occur annually in
the state.

Some opponents say marriage is a religious matter and not one for the
government to regulate. Supporters argue it is a way to help slow the
divorce trend that they say hurts children.

Huckabee said the pastor of the church he attends recently announced that he
would perform only covenant marriages. But Huckabee said that, as the
state's chief executive, he was not encouraging pastors to take such a
stand.

"That would be across a line that I wouldn't step," he said. "I would
encourage them to encourage their members to seek a covenant marriage. I
wouldn't ask them to require it."