February 19, 2005
The Most Important
most important Valentine's Day celebration in America this week was not a
dinner for two in every restaurant across the land.
No, the more meaningful Valentine's Day event was an
Arkansas Celebration of Marriage
rally at which Governor Mike Huckabee took the former Janet McCain as his
wife, nearly 31 years after he originally did so - but with a far more
binding "Covenant Marriage" certificate before 8,000 cheering clergy and
couples from across his state.
Arkansas is one of three states which have passed
Covenant Marriage Laws, that are a
partial reform of "No-Fault Divorce Laws" that allow one spouse to declare
the marriage is over.
In choosing a Covenant Marriage, husband and wife waive
their right to unilateral divorce, agree that they will seek
counseling if the marriage becomes troubled, and that serious
fault must be proven for the divorce to be granted - adultery, physical
abuse of spouse or
children, or conviction of a felony. Alternatively, they must live
separate and apart for two years. And they must attend premarital
counseling explaining what a Covenant Marriage
is, sign an affidavit that they understand its terms and have it notarized.
This innovation was first passed in Louisiana, led by
Rep. Tony Perkins, now President of
the Family Research Council in Washington. I thought every pastor
would urge couples he
married to opt for this fortified marriage, truly a far deeper commitment,
rather than a marriage
certificate written with disappearing ink. I thought most brides-to-be would
ask their intended to make a more binding commitment.
I was wrong.
In Louisiana only 1-2 percent of licenses granted were
for a Covenant Marriage. In
Arkansas, after three and a half years, only 700 of more than 100,000
marriages were fortified
Gov. Huckabee, who was not only a Baptist pastor but
past President of the Arkansas
Baptist Convention, is acutely aware of the fact that Arkansas has America's
divorce rate. In 2000 he declared a "marital emergency" in the state and
became the first governor in the nation to call for "slashing the divorce
rate in half."
He acknowledged "There is a limit to what government
can do. It can not change the
hearts and minds of men and women. But it can encourage churches,
synagogues, people of faith to unite together to help people prepare for
He began pushing for and passed the 2001 law that
required premarital preparation for
couples choosing a Covenant Marriage License rather than the standard license.
"Nobody knew about the law, though he wrote a letter to
every pastor in the state," Chris
Pyle, an aide to the governor, told me. Therefore Huckabee decided
last fall to create a major
event on this Valentine's Day to promote Covenant Marriage, so that "no one
in the state could
be unaware of it, and that some would choose to be held to a higher
Last November he flew around the state, meeting with
clergy at airports, asking them to
urge engaged couples and even couples in existing marriages to choose the
muscular Covenant Marriage, as he and his wife would do on Valentine's Day.
His appeal moved
pastors to act.
Rev. Ronnie Gilmore of Butterfield Assembly of God in
Van Buren, told the governor, "I
apologize to you that you are the one having to lead this battle. Leadership
should have come from the churches." He bused 100 people to the rally
and challenged every
couple in his congregation to convert their marriage. He held classes
and 25-30 couples did
Southern Baptist Pastor Stephen Harrison, of the Family
Church in Pine Bluff preached
on the issue last weekend, got the paperwork and notaries to the church,
prompting 40 couples to convert their marriages. He promoted
attendance at the Celebration of Marriage
rally and announced that "We will only do Covenant Marriages in the future.
We believe in
them if couples are looking for a really committed relationship."
Scores of pastors are taking that stand, inspired by
Ironically, Pat O'Brien, the local county clerk who publicly certified Gov. Huckabee's
Covenant Marriage, is a Democrat who worked for his gubernatorial opponent. "I never voted
for Mike Huckabee, but he has shown great leadership on this issue. In the
first three and a half years, there were only 220 Covenant Marriage Licenses
issued in our county, but in the last 60 days, there have been 380!" he said
"Less divorce means less child custody cases, less
child support battles and more stable
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