Alabama’s first lady Patsy Riley wants to persuade Alabamians who are already married to renew their wedding vows to reduce Alabama’s sky-high divorce rate. Here’s a nice writeup about it from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. What I know about her initiatives to improve Alabama’s general wellness and to prepare preschoolers better to succeed as students makes me respect her caring and motivation. I have to applaud her willingness to go public about the problem of divorce in Alabama and to propose a solution. So I take her proposal at face value, an earnest attempt to improve Alabama’s vexing record on failed marriages.
In that spirit, let’s get real. Persuading a few thousand like-minded conservative Christians to troop to Montgomery for a big PR splash will make all of them feel good and may even improve sales of flowers and jewelry for awhile, but it’s not going to decrease divorce. If you want to decrease divorce, do it by getting to the heart of what causes divorce in Alabama.
First, cut down on poverty. The dirty little secret about divorce is that poor people divorce more than rich people, and poor people are a resource with which Alabama is richly blessed. So let’s get behind your husband’s courageous but (heretofore) unsuccessful attempt to improve the fairness of Alabama’s tax structure, now ranking as the most regressive in the U.S. Let’s stop taxing Alabamians who make as little as $4,600 per year while allowing the corporations owing Alabama timberland to pay only pennies per acre in property tax.
Next, make it harder to marry, especially when you’re young. Liberals (of which I am one) are quick to point out that conservative Christians have a higher divorce rate than the general population, which is correct. However, my guess is that the reason for the higher divorce rate among conservative Christians is not moral weakness but the tendency among conservative Christians to marry earlier in lilfe. And we know that people who marry young are more likely to divorce.
Let’s adopt a statewide culture that strongly encourages people to get marriage counseling before they say “I do.” And I’m not talking about a prayer and a joint reading of the 13th chapter of First Corinthians. I’m talking about honest, comprehensive, and tough-minded sessions that force the would-be spouses to confront the everyday issues that drive husbands and wives apart, like who gets to decide when to make a major purchase, how they will share income and expenses, who cooks, who makes the bed, and how to fight fair.
I agree with you, Mrs. Riley, that too many people are getting divorced in Alabama. I applaud your initiative to direct your resources to it. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and take the actions that will really help accomplish your goal.