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Ark. governor, 6,400 others take stand for covenant marriages

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–Thousands of Arkansans joined Gov. Mike Huckabee and first lady Janet Huckabee in supporting covenant marriage Feb. 14 during the Arkansas Celebration of Marriage ceremony.

“There is a crisis in America and we face it here in Arkansas,” the governor told the Valentine’s Day crowd of 6,400 at Alltel Arena. “That crisis is divorce. It is now getting to the point that it [divorce] almost equals the number of marriages…. When it is easier to get out of a marriage than get out of a contract to buy a used car, clearly something is wrong.”

“Something is wrong when the promises we make are promises that we find sometimes easier to break than it would be to learn how to keep them.”

Demonstrating the importance of a life-long marriage, at the ceremony the Huckabees converted their 30-year marriage into a covenant marriage, a legally binding contract that requires couples seeking a divorce to receive counseling and to wait longer before a divorce is granted. It also limits divorce to reasons such as abuse or adultery.

Standing before Pulaski County Clerk Pat O’Brien and a cheering crowd that gave them a standing ovation, the former Southern Baptist pastor sealed the covenant marriage agreement with a kiss on his wife’s cheek. The ceremony was performed by Dennis Rainey, president and founder of FamilyLife of Little Rock, a division of Campus Crusade for Christ.

Speaking to the crowd, Huckabee said his marriage was not any better than anyone else’s and is just as vulnerable. He hopes covenant marriages will serve as “speed bumps” to divorce and “help make us stop and think how important it is to stay together.”

Later, the Huckabees recited their marriage vows and then led the audience, with couples standing facing each other, in renewing their vows. Many held hands, gazing into their spouse’s eyes. Other’s wiped tears from their eyes. The couples sealed the vows with a kiss.

Other highlights of the event, sponsored by private donations, included short addresses on the importance of marriage by Rabbi Daniel Lapin of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians; Crawford Loritts Jr. of Campus Crusade for Christ.; and Rainey. Grammy Award winner CeCe Winans sang.

Event organizers also recognized couples that had been married 20 years or more. Those married for more than 50 years were presented with a long-stem rose — until event personnel ran out of the flowers. Apologizing, organizers later said they had not expected so many senior adult couples but were pleased they attended the event. Those left out were presented with another gift.

Huckabee said he was “pleasantly stunned” by the large number of people attending the event. The event originally was supposed to start at 7 p.m. but was postponed about 20 minutes after event organizers received phone calls from those stuck in traffic. The crowd forced organizers to open the upper tier of seats to allow room for couples to find a seat.

The evening didn’t go without incident.

Just as Huckabee started speaking on the merits of marriage, a group in the back of the arena raised a large sign bearing the message, “Queer Equality Now” and yelled out in protest. Huckabee ignored the group, which was quickly escorted out of the building by security.

Outside the arena, opponents of covenant marriage held signs in support of same-sex “marriage.” Some attempted to hand out stones to those who would take them. The stones had a message written on them: “Let you without sin cast the first stone,” according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

The distraction didn’t seem to hinder couples from enjoying the event. Many expressed appreciation to the governor for taking such a stand on marriage.

“We really needed the reinforcement from the leaders that our marriage is worth the fight,” said Cassie Jowers, a member of First Baptist Church of Hot Springs, Ark. “After 15 years of marriage, we still struggle with the day-to-day aspects of being loving spouses to each other. It would be so easy to succumb to society’s easy solution to our arguments and differences — divorce.

“But, knowing that I will face God one day and give an accounting to Him for my behavior makes me want to please Him in all I do, including honoring my husband with my commitment to him and our marriage.”

Phil Brown, youth minister at First Baptist Church of Nashville, Ark., said he enjoyed being part of an event that is promoting God’s design for marriage.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to renew our personal commitment to marriage … and be part of a group of people who hold strong to what real marriage is supposed to be about,” Brown said.

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  • Stella Prather