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Covenant marriages make it tougher to nix the nuptials

When Anthony and Darla Tradewell chose Louisiana's new covenant marriage, they didn't have to ask - each knew the other would want it.

They wanted a marriage with legal bonds like those common in the 1950s, before no-fault divorces.Few others, however, have asked for stronger ties. Only 26 covenant licenses were sold in the month after the law took effect Aug. 15; in a typical summer month, Louisiana sells more than 3,000 marriage licenses.

To get out of a covenant marriage, a spouse would have to prove physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, adultery or the like. Even with a no-fault divorce, the wait would be two years.

No-fault laws, which exist in every state, do not require a showing of wrongdoing and allow divorce on the grounds the marriage has simply broken down. Pro-family groups claim they have contributed to a sharp rise in divorce.

There were more than 1 million divorces in the United States in 1995.

Covenant licenses only sold in 19 of Louisiana's 64 parishes in the first month; most sold only one. This year's complete records aren't yet available, but last August, 3,583 marriage licenses were sold.

"You ought to hear some of the comments they give. They just don't want it. Nope," said a deputy clerk of court.

The slow going is no surprise, said state Rep. Tony Perkins, who wrote the law.

"I think it's going to take a year before it's fully operational - when pastors and counselors are themselves aware of it and feel they can make people aware of it," he said.

The Rev. Philip Robertson of Philadelphia Baptist Church in DeVille said he only performs covenant marriages now.

If a couple is unwilling to accept the legal ties of a covenant marriage, they're worried the marriage may not work, he said.

Louisiana's Catholic bishops have yet to decide their stance, and Rabbi David Goldstein of New Orleans' Touro Synagogue said he would advise a couple against a covenant marriage.

"I reject the entire notion as utterly absurd. All marriages should be sacred. It implies that some marriages are not sacred," he said.