Covenant movement builds faith in marriage


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - During 30 years together, Jim and Mary Larmoyeux have figured out what it takes to make a marriage work. They are past the days of arguing about things such as household finances and how to raise the kids. They communicate so well, they said, that there is never a doubt about what the other feels.

Still, on Valentine's Day, they will join more than 1,000 couples in an Arkansas sports arena, including the governor of Arkansas and his wife, in converting their traditional marriage into a covenant marriage, designed to strengthen their bond spiritually and make it more difficult to separate or divorce.

"We want to make a public statement that we are committed to a lifelong marriage," said Jim Larmoyeux, 53, a recruiter for a religious organization in Little Rock. "In order for a marriage to work, you have to get beyond love as a feeling. A covenant marriage can help you find that spiritual love."

In a challenge to gay marriage and the country's rising divorce rate, evangelical Christian groups are leading a movement to sanctify the institution of marriage by legally defining it as a solemn union between a man and a woman. Covenant marriage, based on biblical teachings, is offered as an alternative to traditional marriage in three states: Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona.

Under the strict terms of covenant marriage, couples must undergo premarital counseling, sign an affidavit and promise to seek more counseling if trouble arises in the marriage. Divorce is allowed only in cases of "cruel and barbarous treatment," according to the Arkansas law, including adultery, physical or sexual abuse, a felony conviction or abandonment. Even then, a divorce is granted only after a waiting period of two years.

Conservative leaders said that for many Americans marriage has come under the influence of popular culture with such television shows as Desperate Housewives, The Bachelor and Temptation Island that promote a theme that marriage is a game that can end whenever a participant gets tired of playing.

But the covenant marriage movement has gained momentum, leaders said, as a result of the large number of people who said they cast their ballot in the November election based on moral values.

"The family is the most powerful entity of society, but in the last 30 years, we have allowed America to become a nation of divorce," said Dennis Rainey, executive director of Family Life, a ministry in Little Rock that promotes family values.

With the national divorce rate at 4.2 per 1,000 population, supporters of covenant marriage complain that it is too easy to dissolve a marriage when it has trouble. Covenant marriage, they said, requires accountability and is a return to fault-based divorces that used to be the standard a few decades ago.

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