till death (literally) do us part

Louisiana's new covenant marriage law may discourage divorce -- but at what price?

Published August 19, 1997 8:03AM (EDT)

in many cases of domestic abuse, there is no proof -- no hospital records, no police reports, no testimonials from loved ones.

There is only his word against hers.

So, asks Lynn Gillin, an organizer for the National Coalition for Family Justice, which advocates for family rights, what do you do when all you have is your side of the story? What do you do when the state won't let you out of a marriage unless you show the proper paperwork?

A new Louisiana law that went into effect last Friday requires participating couples to do just that. Called the Marriage Covenant Act, it's the new alternative at the altar, Louisiana's answer to the rising number of marriages ending in divorce. Couples who choose "covenant marriage" are only allowed to divorce after counseling has failed and under the most dire of circumstances -- documented adultery, abuse and abandonment, to name a few.

"I think what's happened over the last 25 to 30 years is a shift of our culture of marriage and commitment to divorce and convenience," says Republican Louisiana Rep. Tony Perkins, author of the act. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, almost one in two marriages in the United States ends in divorce. "Divorce used to be at the bottom of the list when couples were [having problems] with their marriage. We're hoping that what this law does is move divorce back down to the bottom of the list."

Perkins emphasizes that the Marriage Covenant Act is all about choice. Couples can still get married the old-fashioned way (and end it with a no-fault divorce), or they enter into a covenant marriage and hope that they can make it work.

Even though couples must sign an affidavit stating that they understand how a covenant marriage can be dissolved, Gillin and others who work with battered women say that it's dangerous for women to be bound to such an agreement.

"When most people get married, they are in their 20s and they are young and in love," says Gillin. "They are not looking into the long term, and how people change and how situations change." Gillin adds that most abusive relationships are insidious, and women don't realize it until it's too late.

By Dawn MacKeen

Dawn MacKeen is a former senior writer for Salon, and author of a forthcoming book about her grandfather’s survival of the Armenian Genocide, "The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2016).

MORE FROM Dawn MacKeen

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Divorce Family