Covenant Marriage in Comparative Perspective

Covenant Marriage in Comparative Perspective

Covenant Marriage in Comparative Perspective

Covenant Marriage in Comparative Perspective

Excerpt

On August 15, 1997, the State of Louisiana put in place the nation's first modern covenant marriage law. The law creates a two-tiered system of marriage. Couples may choose a contract marriage, with minimal formalities of formation and attendant rights to no-fault divorce. Or couples may choose a covenant marriage, with more stringent formation and dissolution rules. The licensing costs for either form of marriage are the same. But in order to form a covenant marriage, the parties must receive detailed counseling about marriage from a religious official or professional marriage counselor, and then swear an oath, pledging "full knowledge of the nature, purposes, and responsibilities of marriage" and promising "to love, honor, and care for one another as husband and wife for the rest of our lives." Divorce is allowed such covenanted couples only on grounds of serious fault (adultery, capital felony, malicious desertion, and/or physical or sexual abuse of the spouse or one of the children) or after two years of separation. Separation

1. See chapters herein by Katherine Shaw Spaht and by Margaret Brinig and Steven Nock. It
is important to note that covenant marriage laws, of various sorts, were commonplace in colo
nial New England, building in part on the Puritan covenantal theology described in the chapters
herein by James T. Johnson and Max L. Stackhouse. See also George Eliot Howard, A History of Matrimonial Institutions, 3 vols. (Chicago, 1904), vol. 3; Edmund S. Morgan, The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England, revised ed. (New York:
Harper and Row, 1966).

This introduction is excerpted, in part, from an article by the two authors, "Marriage As
More Than a Mere Contract," in The Ethics of Contract, ed. Robin Lovin (forthcoming),
and from Joel A. Nichols, "Louisiana's Covenant Marriage Law: A First Step toward a More
Robust Pluralism in Marriage and Divorce Law," Emory Law Journal 47 (1998): 929-1001.

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