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Covenant marriage law won’t reduce divorce rate ‘overnight&#821

AUSTIN, Texas (BP)–Most couples in Louisiana did not choose covenant marriage in the first 18 months after his precedent-making legislation was adopted, but Tony Perkins said he is “not looking for quick results” in “turning our nation back to one of commitment.”
Perkins, a first-term member of the Louisiana House of Representatives and the author of the country’s first covenant marriage law, spoke in the opening session of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s annual conference March 1 at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.
The law enables couples preparing for their wedding to choose covenant marriage instead of the standard marriage that provides for no-fault divorce. In the first 18 months after it went into effect, only 6 percent of couples chose covenant marriage, Perkins said.
Because the national trend for 200 years has been away from affirming the sanctity of marriage, “we’re not going to change it overnight,” Perkins said. Changing “the culture is like turning a big ship. It takes time,” he said. “We’re looking at this from more of an eternal perspective.”
The law has had positive effects, Perkins said. There have been no divorces by couples married under the law. Pastors have told him marriages have been saved through counseling agreed to by those married under the law, Perkins said. “So, we know that it works,” he said.
One of the reasons few couples have chosen covenant marriage is the lack of awareness of the option. Some do not hear about covenant marriage, Perkins said, until they get their marriage licenses, when it is too late. Pastors can help by immediately informing prospective brides and grooms of the option, he said.
The law requires premarital counseling and an agreement they will obtain counseling if there are problems in the marriage. It also narrows the grounds for divorce, Perkins said, to adultery, conviction for a felony, physical or sexual abuse of a spouse or child, and abandonment. Only the non-offending spouse can seek a divorce under the law.
Arizona has enacted a covenant marriage law since Perkins’ bill was passed. About a dozen state legislatures will debate such laws this year, he said.
Covenant marriage is a way of addressing the problems produced by a “culture of uncommitment,” Perkins said. Divorces, as well as marriages, have declined in the 1990s, but cohabitation by unmarried couples has increased 800 percent since the 1970s, he said.
The law also provides Christians with an opportunity to be light in the world, as directed by Jesus, he said. In the last 20 years, Christians have done a “pretty good job of being salt,” but “where we have fallen short is that we have not been light,” said Perkins, an elder in his church. “Light points to a better way.
“We have done a poor job as Christians in the public square of defining what we’re for,” he said. “We’re known by what we’re against, not what we’re for.”
The ERLC’s seminar, “Faith, Family and Freedom: The Moral Challenges of the Next Millennium,” will continue through March 3.