Happily Ever After and $60 Richer

Texas' Healthy Marriage Bill aims to do so with pre-marital counseling.

May 17, 2007— -- Getting married is no fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants decision -- and getting a divorce is no free ride.

That's the point of the so-called Healthy Marriage Bill, according to its author, state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa. His legislation, which he has pushed for two years, was approved Wednesday by the Texas legislature and is on its way to Gov. Rick Perry's desk.

Chisum said he expects Perry's signature. Katherine Cesinger, a spokesman for the governor, told ABC News that Perry supports the idea behind Chisum's legislation, but that the governor needs to see the final text before publicly declaring support.

Under the bill, couples eager to marry who attend a state-approved premarital counseling course will have the state's marriage license fee -- which would double from $30 to $60 -- waived. Couples who receive counseling will also dodge the state's 72-hour mandatory marriage waiting period.

"It's our first attempt to try to have healthy marriages in the state of Texas," Chisum, a conservative Republican from Pampa, Texas, told ABC News. "Like most other states, we're faced with a huge divorce rate. In order to start avoiding that, we ought to try to do something."

Chisum has been married to his wife, Omega, for 50 years in October. He is the president of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, which promotes bedrock conservative policy, including limited government, free enterprise and, of course, family values.

Marriages today, Chisum said, fall apart too often -- "the first time they hit a bump in the road." His bill will force couples to at least acknowledge that there are issues they should discuss that are critical to achieving a healthy marriage.

"The course deals with the subject matter of forgiveness and expectations and caring about one another when someone else is sick," he said.

According to data from a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Texas recorded the second highest number of divorces in 2005 -- more than 74,000 -- but that number was down from more than 84,000 two years earlier. Only Florida was home to a greater number of divorces among the states that provided statistics. Still, the number of marriages in Texas -- as it has across the nation -- also declined.

Chisum said that if the bill goes into effect Sept. 1, each of the 253 counties in Texas would file with a list of locations to the state where couples could receive counseling and shave $30 off the cost of their marriage license. The state would also offer its own generic course, lasting eight hours, and make grants available to couples who want to take the state-run class but don't have money to enroll.

While Chisum said he expects many of the counseling locations will be associated with Texas churches, he said the law would apply to all denominations.

Throughout the legislative process, many Texas Democrats have derided the bill as a "marriage tax" and claimed that it is a brazen example of Republican hypocrisy.

"I met Ronald Reagan," said state Rep. Pete Gallego, a Democrat. "One of the things he used to talk about was how government was not the answer. It seems to me outrageously inconsistent, Republicans completely moved away from core values. Now they're to the point they want to look into people bedrooms."

Chisum is also working on a divorce bill that has been hung up in this legislative session and that he intends to pursue next year. That legislation would require at least one of the two parties seeking the split to attend a "divorce training" seminar to discuss the challenges -- from financial to familial -- of legally divorcing.

"It is my personal belief that divorce is destroying our country," Chisum said.

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