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The Healthy Marriage Bill For Texans

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By StraightDivorce Staff on 9/17/2007

When recent Texas legislation passed a bill that would force couples to either take a state-approved eight-hour pre-marriage counseling session or be compelled to pay $60.00 to $100.00 for a marriage license, a lot of people were up in arms. The proposed bill was intended to offer an incentive that would promote better marriages, but many were opposed to the increase in license fees.

Forcing Texas Couples Into Counseling

Forcing couples to recognize that successful marriages begin with talking things out, the bill prompted many scathing comments from those opposing the bill, which was presented by Rep. Warren Chisum, a conservative Republican. Rep. Chisum’s objective in presenting the bill was to impact on the high divorce rate in the state of Texas by trying to create healthier marriages. Incentives to get the bill passed claimed that it would deter broken marriages, which often leads to poverty and greater reliance on social programs. The counseling sessions were to focus on subjects such as forgiveness and expectations and as a reward for taking the classes, couples would get a free marriage license, rather than paying the regular fee. But for those who refused the counseling sessions, the fee for the marriage license would be twice as much as the normal $30.00 fee.

Advocacy for the Health Marriage Bill in Texas

The bill had gotten quite a lot of attention while at the same time created a large amount of controversy. Several advocates of marriage education claimed that this type of education, which focused on conflict resolution and communication skills, would help couples move through tough times more successfully without falling into separation or divorce. Some promoters of the bill pointed to testimonies shared by psychologists that cited successes found from a study at the University of Denver. A well-known marriage education study implemented at the university known as PREP, was presented to couples before marriage. Following the study it was shown that couples who attended had a 12% breakup rate after five years, while those who didn’t take the class had a 36% breakup rate. Supporters also stated that the bill would benefit future children by decreasing the number of divorces, thereby decreasing the number of single-parent families.

Many Texans Opposed the Health Marriage Bill

Yet, many Texans opposed the bill, as they believed that the government should not get involved in personal family issues, but should instead focus on other more important issues such a good public schools, good jobs, and safer streets. In addition, some of the criticism and disapproval from Texas officials stated that it was the worst sort of government intrusion possible. The contention was that rather than dictating to husbands and wives as to how they should talk to each other, those opposing the bill felt that passing a law of this nature was inappropriate and that government shouldn’t intervene in regard to social issues. In contrast, those who were going to teach the class argued that it was proper for a government to encourage couples in this direction, as it could potentially improve their lives.

Healthy Bill Doesn’t Make it Into The House

The healthy marriage bill was passed and was supposed to go into effect in September 2007, at which time the commission would have begun awarding $7.5 million in annual grants of up to $50,000 to at least 150 marriage educators statewide. Yet, in a dramatic overnight reversal, the Texas House overturned the “healthy marriage“ bill, effectively stripping the bill of its ability to persuade Texans to take marriage education classes. Those who opposed the bill weren’t against doing something to better marriages; they were opposed to government using a tax hike to change private behavior. Representative Senfronia Thompson won a key vote of 76 to 61 to keep marriage license fees at the regular $30.00 fee. Ms. Thompson stated that the marriage tax was wrong. She felt that if people wanted to get married, they should just get married. Her arguments combined with disapproval among Republicans and Democrats about intrusion on the private lives of citizens, sealed the fate of the bill. Although the bill gained final passage, most agree that it was the fee hike that served as the key point in squashing the bill and not the fact that pre-marriage counseling sessions were being offered.

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