While liberals and conservatives squabble
over the legality and moral implications of same-sex marriage, the
Michigan Senate has passed legislation limiting the freedom of
heterosexuals to choose when and under what circumstances they can
get married and divorced.
Up to this point, a couple only had to wait three days before
receiving an official marriage license from the State of Michigan.
Under the new bill pending in the House, however, couples who want
to get married after that three-day period must undergo at least
four hours of prenuptial counseling. The state encourages this
counseling by offering a tax credit to those who complete it. If
the couple refuses to go through the counseling, they are required
to wait 28 days before obtaining a marriage license. If couples
marry without undergoing the counseling, the cleric or magistrate
who marries the couple will be legally obligated to indicate this
on the marriage certificate.
And, if you think getting married just got more complicated, try
getting a divorce. The new legislation requires a divorcing couple
with children or a pregnant spouse to complete what the state calls
a “divorce effects” program and questionnaire. The
curriculum includes completing a parenting form to help couples
better accommodate their children in divorce, both emotionally and
financially. The law does stipulate however, that anyone who signs
a written statement alleging that he has been abused can opt out of
the mandated curriculum.
Aside from some of the law’s more obvious pitfalls,
contemporary religious norms in the United States make the bill
gratuitous at best. According to USA Today, 60 percent of marriages
in the United States last year were officiated by a religious
figure, many of which already require some form of counseling for
Even more disturbing than the unnecessary formalities the bill
adds to the institution of marriage is the legal murkiness and
unnecessary stress it imposes on a couple filing for divorce. For
one, women who are strong enough to leave an abusive relationship
should not have to seek legal validation from the state.
Furthermore, the bill does nothing to protect the right of spouses
who have been in an emotionally abusive relationship to go forward
with divorce proceedings without a bureaucracy breathing down their
back. Some marriages end because they are simply not healthy for
those involved. Children of divorced parents are no more likely
than anyone else to become deviant members of society, and are more
likely to benefit from parents who are voluntarily honest and
forthcoming about their relationship. The Legislature is imposing a
narrow-minded and politically convenient view of morality on its
citizens, at the risk of exacerbating the very problems they
attempt to fix.
Lawmakers in Lansing have continued to insist that they are
supporting the strengthening of the American family. But what makes
a family strong is health care, jobs with decent wages and good
schools, not post-divorce curriculums.
The bill misappropriates energy and squanders resources. The
state will have to hire hundreds of social workers, therapists and
psychologists to accommodate the proposal.
This proposal is hardly a novelty. It is part of a greater
conservative social project that aims to strengthen marriage and
make divorce less frequent with the preconception that this will
limit the amount of money the government has to spend on programs
like Medicaid, welfare and juvenile crime rates. Legislation such
as this set a frightening precedent that allows the government to
make unfair and unrealistic definitions of the American family. The
government should be hard at work in the business of protecting the
lives, liberties and freedoms of all its citizens, not
discriminating by endorsing one family model over another and