Personal Intrusion

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A new law requiring a counseling class for divorcing couples with children is yet another unnecessary conservative-backed personal intrusion into people’s lives here.

The main purpose of the law seems to be to remind divorcing parents that they are about to commit an atrocious and horrible act that’s sure to hurt their children and then to push the couple to reconcile for their sake. The bill seems based on the logic that people should stay in lousy marriages for the sake of their children. Wasn’t that myth destroyed a long time ago?

Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law this week House Bill 2249, which requires parents divorcing on the grounds of incompatibility take a class that, among other things, focuses on “short-term and longitudinal effects of divorce on child well-being” and “reconciliation as an optional outcome.”

In other words, the class will undoubtedly try to shame a divorcing couple over how they are supposedly hurting their children and then try to get them back together. Here are some questions: What if the couple doesn’t want to even talk about reconciliation? What if only one of the spouses wants to talk about reconciliation, and he/she uses the class as a way to harass the other spouse? (This will surely happen.) What if the couple has been separated for a long time and the children are already adjusted?

Let me throw out a suggestion: People who stay in terrible marriages for the sake of children often have as many anxieties and regrets as people who divorce and establish new blended families. I don’t have any statistical evidence offhand that this is the case, but growing up in a household war zone or in a home without expressions of love and compassion takes it own little nasty toll on children.

I will grant that the new law might seem innocuous and benign to some people. Pay for and complete the class and go about the business of getting a divorce. No big deal, right? But this class could create even more emotional tension between couples during a time period of great stress and anxiety. It presupposes that reconciliation is the answer.

For a long time, Oklahoma has had one of the highest divorce rates in the country, providing the fuel for the social-conservatives who want to engineer our lives with their own narrow worldview abut the sanctity of marriage. Oklahoma is a deeply, right-wing religious state and thus many of our children here grow up with false, idealistic ideas and expectations about marriage and having children. They are taught to find a “soul mate,” not a friend, a “spiritual family leader,” not a partner, “a wife to honor,” not a confidante. A child is a “blessing,” not a responsibility. It’s all coated in religious symbolism and made manifest by the grand wedding spectacle. It has very little to do with the day-to-day life of living with someone and raising children together.

Moreover, children in Oklahoma can get legally married at 16 with their parents’ consent, but we still absurdly deny same-sex couples who have been in stable relationships for years any opportunity at all to legally sanction their partnership, a prohibition that will hopefully change in the near future because of federal court rulings.

We need to one day finally and completely remove the stigma of divorce here and mandate more realistic sex and home-life/home-economics education classes—including discussions about different sexual orientations—in our public schools. That would do far more to lower our divorce rate than haranguing stressed out couples about reconciling.