Marriage and divorce in the Florida Legislature
Steve Schell
April 1997

Remember that silly Defense of Marriage Act that Congress rushed to pass last year? You know, the one that said that states didn't have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. It was supposed to save the institution of marriage from certain destruction had gays been allowed to marry. Well, the Florida Legislature has been busy of late attempting to further legislate what marriage is and what it isn't and to attempt to make it more difficult for married people to get a divorce. So, in effect, they are trying to keep two people who love one another from marrying and at the same time trying to keep two people who don't love one another from divorcing.

Consider the bill on marriage. It states "marriages between persons of the same sex entered into in other jurisdictions...are not recognized for any purpose in this state." Other language defines marriage as being only "between one man and one woman". It's quite short and to the point, and prohibits any agency or political subdivision of the state from recognizing gay marriages. It screams discrimination. It basically says that only two people whose genitals are different from one another are allowed to reap the benefits of marriage, things like health insurance, tax benefits, inheritance rights and the like.

There are more and more national firms such as IBM and Disney that are recognizing same-sex relationships as valid and are extending spousal benefits to employees in those relationships. Maybe its part of recognizing that marriage tends to denote stability and maybe its part of trying to attract and retain quality personnel. But never mind all that, legislators say. If we allow same-sex marriages, they warn, the next thing you know people will be wanting to marry children and we'll be powerless to stop it.

As if that weren't enough for the busy legislature to tackle, they've outdone themselves by tackling the ugly issue of divorce. A bill under consideration will require couples (opposite sex, of course) intending to marry to complete a "marriage preparation course of not less than 4 hours." It further specifies who is allowed to conduct such a course and mandates that the course include, among other things, "typical problems during marriage with suggested solutions." The bill further demands that, prior to filing for divorce, each party "shall have 90 days to complete a court-approved marriage preservation course, which shall be a course of a minimum of 12 hours in 6 different weekly segments." The course shall include topics such as "the negative effects of divorce on children, the negative effects of divorce on men, the negative effects of divorce on women, [and] the negative effects of divorce on society." (What about the positive effects of divorce?) Further, it is to cover the "most common causes of divorce and ways these causes may be overcome." Finally, the icing on the cake portion states, "if any party has refused to complete the...course, the court may consider that fact when pronouncing a final judgement..."

Isn't it great that the GOP-dominated legislature is tackling the most important issues facing this state at the very beginning of the session? We can only hope that governor Chiles will see the ridiculousness of these proposals if the bills hit his desk. There are two many cases of domestic violence in which the abused spouse is terrified to file for divorce even now. Can you imagine telling a woman that she and her husband must attend a "marriage preservation" course before she can divorce him?

Why don't they offer free voluntary counseling to couples who want it and let people who want a divorce get one.

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