BreakPoint

The Divorce Disaster

"An insult to every free-thinking American's intelligence." That's what Gov. Jesse Ventura thinks of a Minnesota law aimed at reducing divorce. The law was written to let couples take $50 off the cost of a marriage license if they completed a premarital class. But Ventura vetoed it: He claimed that government has no business getting into the marriage counseling business. Well, Ventura is wrong. Given the damage divorce causes society -- in welfare and crime costs alone -- government should do everything it can to help encourage strong marriages. Consider: Today, more than half of all marriages end in divorce. People who divorce are more likely to die from stroke, heart disease, cancer, and hypertension. Kids from broken homes are more likely to fail in school, abuse drugs and alcohol, commit crimes, and have children out of wedlock. In fact, Wade Horn, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, says children who grow up outside of a two-parent home "do worse on just about every measure of child well- being." The evidence is clear: The cost of marital failure is paid by all of society, not just the couple whose marriage is shattered. And yet -- as Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating put it, it's easier to get out of a marriage than a Tupperware contract. The good news is that state lawmakers are going all out to promote marriage-saving programs endorsed by the church -- programs that have a proven track record. My friend Mike McManus, who runs a ministry calls Marriage Savers, says lawmakers "are beginning to see that [saving marriages] is important not just for the individuals involved, but for the economy." That's why it makes sense "politically as well as sociologically to reduce the carnage of divorce," McManus says. In Arkansas, Gov. Mike Huckabee has declared "a state of marital emergency." He wants to give state tax credits to couples who undergo premarital counseling. In Oklahoma, Gov. Keating has redirected $10 million in federal welfare funds to programs promoting marriage. Florida passed the very law Jesse Ventura rejected: It offers a discount off marriage licenses to couples who undergo premarital counseling. And Floridians are not waiting for kids to get engaged before preparing them for marriage: You can't graduate from high school without taking a class on marriage and family. Some two dozen other states are also designing laws to make divorce harder. Well, this is all good news -- but critics have lost no time beating up on these laws. For instance, the Freedom from Religion Foundation attacked a Wisconsin law that created a state marriage policy coordinator. The foundation claimed that paying a state official to help churches design community premarital counseling policies violated the separation of church and state. Sadly, a federal court agreed -- and overturned the law. You and I have to work with our own state legislators to create lawsuit-proof laws that encourage couples to think twice before tying the knot -- and then make it harder to untie it, especially when children are involved. Minnesotans, I hope, will agree: Jesse Ventura is dead wrong. The real insult to our intelligence is not premarital counseling but continuing to ignore the marital breakdown that's devastating American society. And that's why fighting divorce with all the weapons the state has is a smart thing to do.

09/19/00

Chuck Colson

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