Texas joins a long line of states introducing legislation to save families by strengthening marriages. And although only three states have enacted marriage covenant laws?Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona?the last two decades have seen both federal and state legislators initiating public policies to restore marriage to its once-honored position.
“Men and women who are married have been shown to be happier and healthier. Marriage also provides for increased financial viability, and children fare better in two-parent households. Children of married parents are less likely to engage in criminal behavior, abuse drugs and alcohol, become pregnant out of wedlock, or experience emotional and psychological troubles.
Based on research proving the ordinance of marriage to benefit adults, children, and society in general, legislation targeting this public institution is not new.
According to the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, “marriages exist in a social and cultural ecology that support or work against them.” The Administration’s website claims that “both directly and indirectly, public policy is crafted to support?or unintentionally weaken?marriage.” Because healthy marriages begat healthy communities, “marriage is a defensible target of public policy.”
Defending the notion of legislation as a viable form of policy intervention for failing marriages, the Administration believes “well-designed legislation intervention” can impact numerous lives in positive ways.
Any timeline for a public policy approach to strengthening marriages begins against the backdrop of legislation in the 1960s and 70s. During this time, family law was characterized by leniency?both the advent of contraception and no-fault divorces.
But beginning in the 1990s, a movement evolved dedicated to strengthening marriage. Its impact can be seen in the 1996 Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
Additionally, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) gave states the latitude to tailor welfare programs to their own specific problems and needs.
With their newfound freedom in regulating welfare funds, many states began to reduce welfare incentives to couples who remained unmarried. Prior to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, single-parent families qualified for welfare with little funds directed to two-parent families.
But it was with the election of George W. Bush in 2000 that the federal government gave concerted effort to rebuilding the institution of marriage. In 2002, federal funding was slated to support marriage promotion programs such as the Healthy Marriage Initiative within the Administration for Children and Families, which was designed to help couples obtain marriage education and to sustain healthy marriages. Additionally, the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 allocated $150 million each year until 2011 for healthy marriage promotion and responsible fatherhood programs.
Today, most states have enacted legislation to encourage marriage and strengthen the family. In many states, high schools now offer marriage and family education curricula. And with the rise of faith-based organizations came the introduction of community marriage-promotion programs. Marriage Savers, a marriage preservation organization, has helped 183 cities in over 40 states reduce their divorce rate, their website claims. Other public initiatives include reenactment of fault-based systems for divorce and restrictions on unilateral no-fault divorce.
In Texas, House Joint Resolution 6 serves as a recent example of public policy targeting marriages on the state level. The resolution, a product of the Texas Conservative Coalition, amended the Texas Constitution to define marriage as consisting solely of the union between one man and one woman.
Despite the push on the state level to reaffirm traditional family values, only three states have gone as far to enact covenant marriage legislation (Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona). While most of 20th century family law legislation sought to liberalize restrictions on di