Commentary: Kansas needs more than covenant marriages

Seems to me, the Kansas Legislature has a full plate without meddling in marriage.

The state has lackluster revenue, school districts threatening to sue and a pension fund that could be shy on assets. But here we go, off to try to legislate our way to long-term fidelity.

If legislators really wanted to decrease Kansas divorce rates, they'd pay more attention to jobs and to dissuading people from marrying too young than the questionable idea of covenant marriage.

To spare myself the ridicule and others the effort, I'll be clear. I see nothing wrong with wishing marriages to be long and healthy.

Quite the contrary, commitment is a good thing.

But can we stick with what is legislatively appropriate and feasible, please?

On Friday, the Kansas House passed a bill that would offer the option of covenant marriage to couples. (Gay couples need not apply. Apparently theirs are not the unions legislators voting for this want to strengthen.)

For a fee of $25 atop the normal $69, people can enter into marital bliss bound by a few extra rules. If love sours, only adultery, abandonment, physical abuse or a spouse who turns out to be a crook will get a quickie divorce. Otherwise, the covenant can break only after counseling and a test-run year's separation.

Three other states have tried this. On average, they found less than 2 percent of couples opted for the more complicated covenant marriage. And after careful study, the evidence simply doesn't exist to prove covenants keep people married.

If you are suspicious that covenants are promoted by politicians hoping to insert religious views into the public realm, you caught that bouquet! The whole idea originated in Louisiana as a bill sponsored by Tony Perkins, now leader of the Family Research Council.

But neither religious devotion nor the premarital counseling the covenants require tends to lower divorce rates.

People tend to choose the covenant more for religious symbolism to go along with their vows, rather than as a measure to actually maintain the marriage, according to Barbara Risman of the Council on Contemporary Families.

Two factors that research has proved to affect divorce: people marrying young and a lack of financial resources.

In communities where many men are unemployed, they also have low marriage rates. But those men aren't sitting around solo, crying in their beer. They have children. They just tend not to marry the mothers, Risman said.

If Kansas legislators insist on tackling morality, they'd best put people to work and encourage them to be older and more financially stable before marrying. But skip the covenant.