By Gerri Elder
There has been a lot of talk about marriage in the Mississippi Legislature recently. Two bills have been passed, one by the House and one by the Senate, and they are bound to cause some confusion. From the outside, it looks like the two chambers of legislature are headed in two separate directions.
In the state Senate, lawmakers passed a bill to create "covenant marriages" that would make it more difficult to get married and divorced. In the House, legislation to eliminate the three-day waiting period to get married was passed. It's as if legislators in Mississippi have no idea what the others are up to. The two bills have now crossed paths and the House is looking at the covenant marriages bill and the Senate is faced with the House bill that would make marriages quicker.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reports that these two bills regarding marriage will likely survive until the end of the session and most likely will be among the final issues settled during the 2008 session that ends on April 19.
House Judiciary A Chairman Ed Blackmon has said that he has no intention of calling up the Senate's covenant marriage bill for consideration. However, Senate Judiciary A Chairman Joey Fillingane, a supporter of the covenant marriage concept, has somehow managed to wrap the two bills into one by including the covenant marriage language from the Senate's bill into the House bill that eliminates the waiting period for marriage licenses. If the House bill with Fillingane's edits passes the Senate, it will then be sent back to the House for approval of the changes. The House will then make a choice to accept the changes, set up negotiations between the House and Senate leaders or simply let the bill die.
Legislators in Mississippi did not invent the concept of covenant marriage. It originated in Arkansas while Mike Huckabee was governor of the state. Arkansas, Louisiana and Arizona currently have covenant marriage laws while Indiana and Oklahoma considered similar legislation last year.
In Mississippi, the adoption of the covenant marriage law would mean that a separate and additional marriage license would have to be obtained by couples that wish to enter into a covenant marriage. In order to enter into a covenant marriage, couples would be required to attend counseling before the marriage ceremony.
In addition to making it harder to actually get married, covenant marriage laws also make it more difficult to get a divorce. Covenant marriage laws require a one-year waiting period for divorce in all but the most extreme cases of physical abuse. Also, couples in covenant marriages that wish to divorce would be required to attend counseling again before a divorce could be granted.
Lawmakers in Mississippi wish to make marriage and divorce a more time consuming process in order to reduce the divorce rate, which is currently higher than the national average.
The odd part about the covenant marriage debate in Mississippi is that even if the bill were passed into law, couples would still be able to obtain and get married with the same marriage license that the state already offers. Covenant marriages would not be mandatory, but would be strongly encouraged. It's hard to say exactly how this concept could be expected to actually help reduce the state's divorce rate.