Covenant marriages in Arkansas jump in 2005 after governor's push

LITTLE ROCK (AP) - More Arkansans are entering into covenant marriages, which are legally harder to break than normal marriages.

In 2001, legislators passed a law that made entering into a covenant marriage an option for couples. Couples can end a covenant marriage only after counseling and only on certain grounds - adultery, criminal activity, physical or sexual abuse or a two-year separation. By the end of October last year, a total of 1,123 Arkansans had begun new covenant marriages or converted existing marriages into covenant marriages. That number is much higher than the combined number of covenant marriages from 2002 through 2004.

Governor Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, credits the promotion of covenant marriages for the increase in such unions. The governor heavily promoted covenant marriages last year, and converted his marriage to a covenant marriage at an Alltel Arena ceremony last Valentine's Day. Huckabee says the overall goal of covenant marriage is to lower the number of divorces in the state. So far, the option seems to be having little impact on the state's divorce rate, one of the highest in the nation. There were 16,578 divorces in the state last year.