Despite a divorce rate that has sunk to its lowest level in more than a decade, Arizona lawmakers passed a bill Monday that could make it harder to end some marriages.
Supporters say the voluntary covenant marriage bill would make couples think twice about either marrying or separating. They believe it could further reduce the state's divorce rate, which is higher than the national rate.Opponents say the Legislature should stay out of its citizens' private lives.
"We intercede too often into the bedroom," Rep. Andy Nichols, D-Tucson, said. "We need to work on the social problems that cause marriages to fail, not create a second class of marriages."
Gov. Jane Hull said she may invite both sides to debate in her office before she decides whether to sign Senate Bill 1133. "When it gets up here, she'll act on it," spokeswoman Francie Noyes said.
Conservative Sen. David Petersen, R-Mesa, sponsored the bill, which also was on legislative agendas this spring in nearly a dozen other states.
Louisiana was the first to enact covenant marriages in August. A spot check with the court clerk in Lafayette Parish found six out of 500 couples have chosen the new form.
In asking for the special type of marriage license, a couple would be required to receive counseling before the ceremony.
For those who choose the "lifetime" covenant, waiting periods of up to two years would be required before dissolution except in cases of adultery, imprisonment, abuse and drug or alcohol addiction.
The Arizona covenant also could be dissolved if both parties agreed to waive it.
Petersen said fundamentalist church groups, but not his LDS faith, want a stronger marriage contract than Arizona's standard no-fault arrangement.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints "has not even endorsed this," he said. "I wanted them to, but they have steered clear of it."
Arizona is rated among the bottom 10 for children's welfare, teen delinquency and pregnancy, high school dropouts and other ills associated with divorce. Petersen estimated that taxpayers spend more than $1 billion a year on these problems.
Arizona's divorce rate - six dissolutions per 1,000 people - is 40 percent higher than the national divorce rate.