In an effort to reduce the number of divorces in Arkansas, Gov. Mike Huckabee plans to invite at least 1,000 married couples to join him and his wife of 30 years in entering into a covenant marriage on Valentines Day next year.
Huckabee launched his Celebration of Marriage campaign Monday and then embarked on a two-day tour pushing covenant marriages in nine cities in Arkansas.
Arkansass divorce rate is more than 2 percent above the national average of 4.2 percent but Huckabee is seeking to reduce that by promoting a three-year-old legislation.
In Nov. 2001, Huckabee signed the Arkansas Covenant Marriage Act, which allows couples the option of receiving a covenant marriage license instead of the regular marriage license. Under the regular marriage license, the no-fault divorce law applies. But as part of a covenant marriage, couples sign an agreement requiring premarital counseling and only allows for divorce counseling and a two-year separation period or only in the cases of adultery, imprisonment, abandonment, and abuse.
However, the governor said too few couples have taken advantage of covenant marriages, only 600 of the 40,000 marriages in the past three years.
The governors efforts will culminate with a mass wedding ceremony at Alltel Arena in Little Rock on Feb. 14, 2005, when he plans to convert his marriage with his wife Janet into a covenant marriage and hopes others will join him in doing the same. The events expenses will be paid by participating churches and also state funds.
"We believe it's an important enough event to use this time and resources for it because, quite frankly, we're spending an enormous amount of money dealing with the consequences of marriages that don't work out," he said Monday.
Some critics of say the promotion of the event is a religious event and should not be supported by taxpayers' money but the American Civil Liberties Union said it had no objection to it.
Arkansas, Arizona, and Louisiana are the only three states in the nation with a covenant marriage law. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, authored the first covenant marriage law in 1997 while he was a Louisiana state representative.