Thursday, April 10, 2008

Contractual vs. Covenant Marriage

Many have likely heard the following argument against marriage. What is the importance of a piece of paper? If two people are committed to each other, how is a piece of paper going to make a difference? Then the arguer often will say something to the effect of, I know couple who have a great relationship and they aren't officially married. Their relationship is way better than the handful of other bad marriages that I have heard of on TV and read about in the newspaper who are officially married. This argument demonstrates the use of the fallacy of false dichotomy and hasty generalization. Statistically, the strongest, happiest marriages are #1 committed and #2 legal. But even marriages which are committed and legal are ending in divorce at ever increasing rates.

In response to rising divorce rates, many state governments have instituted what is referred to as covenant marriage. These covenant marriages make it more difficult to divorce by requiring that the couple first go through marriage counseling, they prohibit "no fault" divorce on the basis of "irreconcilable difference." These new covenant marriages also require a 2-year waiting period before the couple can even schedule a divorce hearing before a judge. Experts are generally in agreement that this new arrangement only serves to make marriage more of a trap than really helping people stay together. This new marriage contract forces people to stay legally married who want to be divorced and provides no incentives for the parties to want to stay married. For active LDS who marry someone in their faith, covenant marriage means something more than just making it more difficult to divorce.

A 1993 study published in Demography [magazine] showed that Mormons marrying within their church are least likely of all Americans to become divorced. Only 13 percent of LDS couples have divorced after five years of marriage, compared with 20 percent for Catholics and Protestants and 27 percent among Jews. However, when a Mormon marries outside the faith, the divorce rate soars to 40 percent -- second only to mixed-faith marriages involving a Jewish spouse (42 percent).

What is the difference between LDS covenant marriage and regular marriage? In contractual marriage, a 2-way agreement is made between only the husband and wife. The husband agrees to live with the wife with the expectation of certain benefits and the wife agrees to live with the husband on condition of certain benefits. In this way, contractual marriage turn out to be more of an even 50-50 partnership. When either spouse fails to deliver on his or her end, there is a breach of contract and the spouse is within their right to cancel the contract. State governments are also a part of any marriage contract and do bestow specific rights, benefits, fees, taxes, and penalties upon the marriage couple.

[Bob Mims, "Mormons: high conservatism, low divorce, big growth," Salt Lake Tribune, 1999-MAR-6.]

Now how does LDS covenant marriage work. Covenant marriage makes God a part of the agreement. A covenant marriage is a 3-way agreement between the couple and God. In the LDS marriage covenant, God becomes the source of all expected benefits. So, there is no 50-50 expectation. Covenant spouses go into marriage with the understanding that at some point in the marriage one spouse may not be giving a full 50% while the other is giving 80% or even 100%. But this unequal situation does not nullify the covenant because God promises to compensate the spouse giving the greater effort or sacrifice. Payment may not be immediate in this life. But God promises couples that all will be made up in the next life. So, the spouse giving more in this life continues within the covenant relationship with a hope that they are laying up in store treasure in heaven.
Covenant marriage provides tangible benifits to married couples here and now in addition to expectant blessings in the next life. Because God and His grace is part of the relationship, the couples love and faith in God can inspire them to even greater love and devotion towards one another. So, in a synergistic way, both couples end up giving 110, 200, even 400% more to the marriage than they otherwise would have been able to on their own.
The parties involved in the covenant are still free to break the agreement. If a party commits adultery or is physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive and not repentant, the spouse is within their right to cancel the marriage covenant. There is nothing about covenant marriage that forces or coerces any side to stay against their will. In this way, LDS covenant marriage results in stronger marriages and fewer divorces because it provides greater incentives to persuade each side to stay married even in the face of adversity or an unequally yoked relationship. State and local governments, as a 3rd-party in all marriage agreements, could likewise strengthen marriages by incentivizing marriage instead of the current system which only penalizes them.

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Jared said...

It's wonderful to read a post that puts into words how I feel in my heart. Good job--thanks.

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