In the wake of Proposition 8's success last year in barring gay marriage in California, what could be a more natural next step than banning divorce?
At least that's what Sacramento Web designer John Marcotte was thinking when he launched a petition drive to gather some 700,000 valid signatures by March 22 in order to get the 2010 Marriage Protection Act in place for next November's election.
Well, maybe that's not quite what was he was thinking. Marcotte's quixotic campaign is actually activism-as-satire, a kind of protest against the argument-from-tradition that was used in the Prop 8 campaign.
"Since California has decided to protect traditional marriage, I think it would be hypocritical of us not to sacrifice some of our own rights to protect traditional marriage even more," the 38-year-old married father of two told the Associated Press
Interesting argument, given that half of all American marriages -- those would be of the opposite-sex variety -- end in divorce, a statistic that overwhelms the number of gay marriages that could ever break up if homosexuals were actually allowed to marry.
Can Marcotte's campaign work? Despite the impression that all Californians do at the polls is vote on referendums, it is an uphill climb to get an initiative on the ballot if you don't have tons of money (and major out-of-state backing). Marcotte is funding his all-volunteer effort by selling merchandise that features a "Chains of Love" logo with a pair of generic safety-sign adults handcuffed together by "the bonds of love." The motto: "You said, 'Til death do us part.' You're not dead yet."
"Show the heathens in your community that you support marital fidelity in the most extreme way possible," reads the promo on Marcotte's Web site, RescueMarriage.org
At last report, Marcotte had collected several hundred signatures -- including that of his wife of seven years -- and has 194 Facebook fans. On the other hand, could he expect to do any better in California, a state that is home to Larry King (eight marriages to seven women) and Zsa Zsa Gabor (married nine times)?
But Marcotte has succeeded in uniting a few foes in this fractious debate. Some gay activists have joined the campaign, and the American Family Association, a staunchly conservative lobby out of Mississippi that worked for last year's "Yes on 8" campaign, interviewed him. (Marcotte, a Catholic and Democrat, voted "no" on Prop 8.) He has been featured on both CNN and CBN -- that's Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network.
"I get attacked from people that think I'm kidding and think I'm making fun of the Prop 8 people," Marcotte told CBN
. "And then on the other side I'm getting attacked from the left, who think that I'm serious." (Judging by comments on his site, some folks on the right also don't get the joke.)
If the religious right isn't taking him seriously, maybe they should.
Research shows that some of the reddest states (like Kentucky, Mississippi and Arkansas) with some of the strongest opposition to gay marriage also have some of the highest divorce rates
. Conversely, blue states like Massachusetts have some of the lowest divorce rates. Moreover, states such as Arkansas have the highest rates of men who have married at least three times
--10 percent of the guys in Arkansas have gone to the altar that many times or more -- while New York comes in at just 2 percent, well below the national average of 6 percent of men who are three-timers.
"Divorce used to be something people were ashamed of, and something that churches took seriously," the Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge, a lesbian and associate pastor at Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, S.C., wrote at ReligionDispatches
. "When my father, a Southern Baptist preacher, divorced my mother in the 1970s, he never served another church again. No Southern Baptist church would have a divorced pastor in their pulpit. His career was over. Now, there are plenty of divorced Southern Baptist preachers leading churches, including mega-church leader Charles Stanley in Atlanta."
Still, in these tough times -- especially in California, which is nearly bankrupt -- the best argument may come down to the fiscal sense of banning divorce.
Marcotte notes that
an Institute for American Values survey puts the cost of divorce in California at $4.8 billion annually. And the Legislative Analyst's Office for the state of California estimated that Marcotte's constitutional amendment to ban divorce would result in "savings to the state of up to hundreds of millions of dollars annually for support of the court system due to the elimination of divorce proceedings."
As Marcotte says, "The question isn't 'Should we ban divorce?' The question is 'Can we afford not to?' "