Well, it seems that in this legislative session we are going to debate divorce. With all our fiscal troubles, I’m sure you didn’t have that on your list of legislative priorities for the year
The proposed House Bill 2279 disallows a court from granting a divorce on the grounds of incompatibility if there are minor children, the couple has been together for 10 years or more, or one partner files a written objection to the divorce.
As a Christian minister, I want members of my faith community to take seriously the sacrament of marriage. Spouses make a commitment in front of the faith community that involves us in helping to support and encourage the vows they make to one another.
Marriage as a religious institution is one thing, however, and faith group doctrines vary dramatically on what it takes to enter into and to dissolve such relationships. The state should not be concerned with religious doctrine, but the civil contract and whatever interests government might have in that.
HB 2279 is brought to us by Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, although it ironically parallels efforts in other states spearheaded by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations to expose heterosexist hypocrisy regarding the marriage issue. Same-gender couples who want to marry (and are married) are very serious about the institution and are fighting so hard for it precisely because they want all the social (and/or sacramental) benefits and responsibilities.
It is heterosexuals, as a category, who have made light of the institution and used the state to sanction their serial polygamy. Yes, many marriages in this state end in divorce. Should this concern the state from a governmental standpoint, or should society address the culture of marriage through other institutions besides the government?
Before enacting further legislation that tries to dictate choices and limit freedoms in private relationships, one might first want to spend some time seriously exploring why Oklahoma has a high divorce rate. And then, secondly, look into whether any of these conditions could be addressed through government policy or are best left to other social institutions.
I have no research to point to, but wonder what the possibilities might be. Does our state culture encourage too many early marriages by young people? Are young people not receiving adequate education to make good choices? Do our high poverty rate and inadequate social services work against marriage? Do the religious communities in this state have inadequate marriage preparation for their members? Who knows what the factors
are, but it might be good to spend some time figuring that out before imposing new legal restrictions.
What state has the lowest divorce rate? Massachusetts has topped the list for decades. Are there policies that state has implemented that we might emulate? I’d be curious to see the results of a study like that.
My gut tells me that government dictates limiting our freedoms to enter into and exit personal relationships are not the best way to solve this problem. I’m glad we are discussing the issue, but let’s find a better set of solutions.
Jones, who holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma, is pastor of the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.