Same-sex marriage is now legal in 19 US states plus the District of Columbia, with court cases pending in 30 more and one appeals case in Utah (now cleared to head to the U.S. Supreme Court), which could make for a nationwide sweep legalizing gay marriage as early as next year.
With this kind of momentum on the pro-marriage equality front, it's little wonder that among the conservative forces who have spent the past decade focused and organized in their efforts to defend traditional marriage, attention seems to be shifting to a new controversy. The latest battleground? It's not about who can marry, but about what happens when married couples -- gay or straight -- decide to divorce.
A quick scan of recent news headlines shows the distinct sides starting to form in this gathering divorce storm. On one side, a slew of conservative lawmakers and conservative Christian groups working around the clock to make sure that if you take the plunge to get married, getting a divorce won't be easy. The most recent "win" for this side took place in Oklahoma, when the state recently passed a law requiring couples with children to take a class stressing marital reconciliation before they can file to end their marriage.
It's also the case that well-known political players on the national stage, including Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry, have all signed a pledge from Family Leader, a conservative Christian group pledging to speak out against "quickie divorce" and urge any couple thinking about divorce to first have a "cooling off period." Is all this just a new iteration of "defending marriage"? States such as Arizona, Louisiana and Utah have already passed laws similar to Oklahoma establishing waiting periods or limiting the reasons for divorce. Alabama is also contemplating waiting periods.
On the other side are states, including California and New Jersey, where new laws and programs are being put in place to make getting a divorce more streamlined and easier than ever before. California, for example, is piloting a new "One Day Divorce" program. In New Jersey, a proposed new law referencing the process of "collaborative divorce," a method of divorce that is less costly and less time-consuming than traditional "divorce court" legislation, is hoping to help keep matters out of the courts.
In general, these states are attempting to cut the ever-increasing courthouse backlog by providing divorcing couples with legally sound alternatives to divorce court, with the rational that out of court settlements can be a win-win all around: the courts can be reserved to hear cases that truly require judicial intervention (and be able to hear these cases more expeditiously) and couples who want to divorce can do so and move on with their lives without the need to wait an excessively long time.
Has war been declared yet? While both sides have quietly been taking shape, largely in the shadow of the gay marriage debate, it's become increasingly apparent that both "teams" now seem poised to enter the battlefield of public debate.
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