'Covenant Marriage' Offers Tighter Bonds

ByABC News
February 10, 2005, 5:55 PM

Feb. 14, 2005 — -- When Mike and Kelly Johnson married in 1999, they opted for a "covenant marriage," which under Louisiana law requires premarital counseling and further counseling before a couple can be granted a divorce. Even then, divorce is only allowed in specific circumstances.

To them, Mike Johnson said, it was "kind of a no-brainer."

"My wife and I both come from traditional Christian households," he said. "My own parents are divorced. As anyone who goes through that knows, that was a traumatic thing for our whole family. I'm a big proponent of marriage and fidelity and all the things that go with it, and I've seen firsthand the devastation [divorce] can cause."

His wife was pleased that he was ready for such a commitment. "To me, I thought, 'OK, if a man is willing to enter into a covenant marriage with me, then that really shows me that he wants it to be forever,' " she said. "I think that it would be a pretty big red flag if you asked your mate or your fiancé, 'Let's do a covenant marriage,' and they said they don't really want to do that."

Faced with a growing divorce rate and dealing with children whose parents had split up, in 1997 Louisiana became the first state to offer covenant marriage as an option to standard marriage and no-fault divorce. Since then, Arizona and Arkansas have followed suit. But so far, very few of the couples marrying in those states have selected a covenant agreement rather than standard marriage in the eyes of the state -- just 2 percent in Louisiana, which is higher than in the others.

Officials in all three states said people are still unaware they have the choice. To educate those in Arkansas, Gov. Mike Huckabee and his wife, Janet, tonight are hosting "Arkansas Celebration of Marriage" as a way to mark Valentine's Day and promote covenant marriage. They will convert their marriage to a covenant marriage at the event in North Little Rock's Alltel Arena, and the goal is to have 1,000 other couples do the same after learning more about it.

Kelly Johnson stressed that she does not question the commitment of those who have standard marriages, but she believes it is "marriage light."