Politics & Government

House bill would allow 'covenant marriage'

TOPEKA — Kansas lawmakers have a plan to put the lock back in wedlock: optional "covenant marriages" that could be ended only for specific reasons or after a trial separation.

To break these bonds of matrimony, couples would have to undergo marriage counseling and live apart for at least a year. Divorces also could be granted after an infidelity, or when one spouse has committed domestic violence or been convicted of a serious crime.

Couples would have to undergo premarital counseling to qualify, and sign an affidavit affirming that their marriage is for life. Covenant marriages also would cost more — $25 on top of the existing $69 marriage license fee.

Married couples could upgrade to the covenant marriage, too.

The House endorsed the measure Thursday. A final vote today would send the bill to the Senate.

"We are not forcing anybody into this agreement," said Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora. "It's not going back to the 1800s. It's still the same marriage law, unless you and your partner decide to go through a covenant marriage process."

For those who like to know where the exits are, standard marriage — which allows for no-fault divorce — would remain available.

Critics contend that, if approved, the extra obstacles could trap abused spouses or prolong the agony of couples who were never meant to be.

"We need to be in touch with reality," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence. "Some people who get married discover they shouldn't have gotten married ... I don't want to force those people to stay in a marriage that is hurting them."

Only Arkansas, Arizona and Louisiana have covenant marriages on the books.

Earlier Thursday, the House passed and sent to the Senate a bill waiving the state's $69 marriage license fee for couples who sign an affidavit stating they lack the resources to pay.

Rep. Jan Pauls, D-Hutchinson, said it was too bad some couples couldn't afford the fee.

But he added, "Maybe they're going to just live on love."