The proposed legislative bills that want to make it more difficult to get a divorce in Oklahoma can be seen as misguided, nostalgic desires for a different era that is fortunately not coming back.
The family framework has changed and become more diverse in this country, but that obvious point is lost on some Oklahoma conservatives, who feel compelled to make divorce a more punitive process in an attempt to prevent it. That’s the underlying logic, and obviously it won’t work.
State Sen. Josh Brecheen, a Coalgate Republican, for example, has introduced the so-called “covenant” marriage bill, Senate Bill 105, that would allow Oklahomans to take an oath swearing that “covenant marriage is for life,” or rather allow them to enter into a marriage that can only be ended for a recognized legal cause.
At least Brecheen’s legislation offers a choice, although heavy pressure to enter into a convenant marriage could come from a person’s specific religious community.
House Bill 1548 by state Rep. Mark McCullough, a Sapulpa Republican, simply ends divorce on incompatibility grounds if there are minor children living at the home, the couple has been married for 10 years or longer or if either individual objects to it. In these cases, the divorce could only be granted for a recognized legal cause, such as adultery or spousal abuse.
In other words, let’s start a big fight between a couple even if there wasn’t one to begin with because, under this logic, divorce rates will dramatically fall, and all of us will live happily ever after, just like it didn’t happen in the 1950s.
Conservatives undoubtedly want us to see these bills and other related bills as sincere efforts to tackle the thorny issue of the so-called “breakdown” of the family, but they’re really just reflections of a narrow world view, most likely one dictated by right-wing religious beliefs.
Let’s be clear: All consenting adults should have the right to get married to whom they want and the right to get a divorce without added government-imposed conflict.
Here are some suggestions for conservatives worried about high divorce rates and families:
- Develop more extensive programs in our schools that would prepare students for the reality of marriage. Early marriage, for example, has been attributed to high divorce rates. Perhaps, in these programs, we could encourage students to actually wait longer until they marry.
- Destigmatize divorce. Divorce can take a toll on children, and some of that toll comes from a culture that sees divorce as “failure,” rather than change, a beginning or something just normal. Terms, such as “broken home” or the derogatory use of “stepchild,” add to the problem.
- Celebrate blended and single-parent families. Undoubtedly, divorce and contemporary society has changed the family unit, which is no longer exclusive to a married man and woman living in the same home with their children. Blended families created through remarriage or other circumstances, such as same-sex couples and their children, can be just as successful as traditional families. A calm single-parent home is much better than a two-parent home with an abundance of conflict and abuse. Blended and single-parent families can and do offer unique opportunities to children.
- Accept marriage equality for all. Let people marry the person they want to marry. How can conservatives extol the virtues of strong marriages when they want to deny it to the gay community? It’s a glaring contradiction.
The high divorce rate in this country is the result of major societal shifts that aren’t going to reverse themselves. We should deal with that reality when we think about divorce and families. Making divorce more difficult is a throwback to an archaic system that often denied people basic human rights while generating culturally sanctioned abuse.