Marriage and divorce in Oklahoma: an in-depth series

Headline: Divorce rate stays steady, study shows
Byline: Bobby Ross Jr.
Publication Date: February 10, 2002
Page: 1-A

Three years after Gov. Frank Keating declared war on the state’s No. 2-in-the-nation divorce rate, the enemy shows little sign of retreating.

Oklahoma’s number of failed marriages – about 20,000 a year – has remained fairly steady, state records show.

For every 100 marriage licenses issued in 2001, the state granted 76 divorce petitions.

Nevertheless, Keating and advocates of the $10 million Oklahoma Marriage Initiative point to progress that they hope will help reduce the state’s divorce rate by one-third by 2010.

“Divorce is so imbedded in the culture, it’s going to be years before we turn it around,” Keating said.

Spousal abuse, adultery and abandonment constitute legitimate grounds for divorce, the governor said.

“But most marriages end because one party or the other is simply bored or decides that they want to have a new Jaguar,” he said.

Among the progress cited:

– About 750 clergy members statewide have signed the Oklahoma Marriage Covenant, agreeing to require a four- to six-month preparation period before presiding over a wedding.

The covenant is important because an estimated 75 percent of first marriages occur in churches, synagogues or mosques, religious leaders say.

Too often, Oklahoma churches have served not as promoters of lifelong marriages but as “wedding factories,” said the Rev. Kent Choate, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s family ministry specialist.

– About 200 people from state government, the religious community, private counseling agencies and other sectors have trained to teach the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program, or PREP. An additional 100 to 300 people are expected to be trained by year’s end.

PREP was developed by Scott Stanley and Howard Markman, who direct the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. The program, they say, is a “research-based, skills- building curriculum designed to help partners say what they need to say, get to the heart of problems, avoid standoffs and connect with each other instead of pushing each other away.”

– Creation of a “statewide delivery system” to provide marriage education seminars and resources has begun, and the state is launching a Web site atwww.okmarriage.org.

– Oklahoma State University’s Bureau of Social Research has finished surveying 2,000 Oklahoma adults in an effort to explain the state’s divorce rate and build a foundation for assessing the marriage initiative’s long-term impact. A thousand adults also were questioned in Texas, Kansas and Arkansas to form a comparison group.

While the complete survey report won’t be released until June, preliminary findings indicate most Oklahomans share Keating’s concern.

Ninety percent of those surveyed said many couples rush into marriage, and 82 percent described a statewide initiative to promote marriage and reduce divorce as a good or very good idea.

Sixty-nine percent called divorce a very serious national problem.

“It’s interesting that over two-thirds of Oklahomans think divorce is a very serious problem,” said Christine Johnson, the OSU researcher overseeing the survey project. “Now, maybe we’re really poised to give Oklahomans some skills to make their relationships better.”

Thirty-three percent of the respondents had been divorced at least once. Of the divorcees, 86 percent cited a lack of commitment as a major contributing factor.

“That is something where the marriage initiative could make a difference,” Johnson said. “The notion of commitment is definitely… a component of the curriculum that they’ve chosen to use across the state.”

Eyes on Oklahoma

Experts cite the state’s low per-capita income – which ranks 43rd in the nation – and a tendency of Bible Belt couples to marry young as reasons many marriages fail.

In recent years, various studies have ranked Oklahoma’s divorce rate among the highest nationally. A 1998 Family Research Council report said only Arkansas had a higher divorce rate, if you discount Nevada, where couples from across the nation flock for “quickie” divorces.

The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative has put the state at the forefront of a developing national debate over government-sponsored marriage programs.

In Washington, four think tanks – the liberal Urban Institute and Brookings Institution and the conservative Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute – all have agreed that marriage should be supported and encouraged in public policy, Karen Woods said.

“That is a 180 from the public debate just one year ago and a significantly important fact,” said Woods, the Empowerment Network’s vice president for state initiatives. She is a graduate of Seminole High School and Oklahoma State University.

The Empowerment Network, chaired by Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., is made up of elected officials and grassroots groups that hope to promote families and improve poorer communities. Keating is among the organization’s honorary co-chairmen.

In the White House budget plan sent to Congress last week, the Bush administration offered no new money to encourage job advancement. However, it proposed more than $100 million for experimental programs aimed at encouraging women on welfare to get married, The Associated Press reported.

Two years ago, Keating became the first governor in the nation to set aside Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to strengthen marriages and reduce the divorce rate. Those funds are block grants provided to each state through the 1996 welfare reform act.

Fortifying marriages was a major goal of welfare reform, but few states have acted on it, said Ron Haskins, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former staff director of the U.S. House Ways and Means welfare subcommittee.

“Nobody has done as much as publicly and conspicuously as Oklahoma has,” Haskins said.

Diane Sollee, founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education in Washington, said, “All eyes are on Oklahoma, that’s for sure.”

Praise for Oklahoma

Now, it appears that President Bush would like other states to follow Oklahoma’s lead.

“I think it’s quite exciting,” administration official Wade Horn said of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative. “I think Governor Keating has shown real leadership and creativity on this issue, and we’re looking forward to seeing the results.”

Horn, former president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, spoke at the Oklahoma conference on marriage hosted by the governor and First Lady CathyKeating in March 1999. As assistant secretary for children and families in the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, he’s a key figure in efforts to broaden the focus of welfare to endeavors that foster marriage, abstinence and responsible fathers.

“It’s not about mandating marriage. It’s not about running a federal dating service or a matchmaking business,” Horn told The Oklahoman. “It’s about helping couples who choose marriage for themselves to form and sustain healthy marriages.”

Testifying last year before a congressional subcommittee, Jerry Regier, Keating’s former health and human services secretary, said Oklahoma spends millions on foster care, child abuse and neglect investigations, adoption, out-of-wedlock births, juvenile delinquency and many other problems. Regier characterized those problems as “primarily… the result of either families not forming through marriage in the first place or because of absent parents due to divorce.”

A 2000 Heritage Foundation study, “The Effects of Divorce in America,” reported that state and federal governments spend $150 billion a year to subsidize and sustain single-parent families, but only $150 million – one-thousandth as much – to strengthen marriages.

But others say welfare money should be reserved for programs that pay for job training, transportation, child care and increased wages.

“I’m really worried about taking money away from poor people and using it for marriage education and marriage promotion,” said Dorian Solot, executive director of the Boston-based Alternatives to Marriage Project.

Critics question whether government officials and taxpayer dollars belong in decisions so personal as marriage and divorce.

Some also suggest that abused women may be urged to lock themselves in dangerous relationships. Advocates deny that.

“I’m less skeptical than I was,” said Marcia Smith, executive director of the Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. “I think Oklahoma has done a fair job of addressing that issue.”

Pros and cons

After Keating launched the marriage initiative, the state began calculating the incomes of both individuals in a cohabiting couple when determining welfare eligibility. That removed a financial incentive for couples to live together outside marriage.

Also, the Legislature passed a bill lowering the price of marriage licenses for couples submitting to premarital counseling.

But so far, lawmakers have rejected Keating’s calls to enact a covenant marriage law and outlaw no-fault divorce.

At the same time, Keating has faced criticism from a few Democratic senators over a $400,000 contract awarded to Public Strategies Inc., the Oklahoma City company hired to manage the marriage initiative. The company’s president, Mary Myrick, is a former Republican political consultant.

Sen. Kevin Easley, D-Broken Arrow, complained last year that Myrick’s company was paid for reading books, viewing videos and performing various public relations tasks tied to the governor’s program.

Myrick said of Easley, “With better information, I believe he wouldn’t be a critic. He has focused on our contract and not on the marriage initiative. He actually criticized some of our expenses, which was a very, very tiny portion of what we did.”

Headline: For better or worse: Marriage and divorce in Oklahoma Making the most of married life Stillwater turns initiative into action
Byline: Bobby Ross Jr.
Publication Date: February 10, 2002
Page: 01

STILLWATER – Down on Elm Street, Eskimo Joe’s buzzed with stomach-growling customers eager to fill up on burgers and bacon cheese fries.

In living rooms all over town, fans craving a little rim action tuned their televisions to the Oklahoma State Cowboys’ early afternoon tip-off in Manhattan, Kan.

Inside the OSU Student Union’s “little theater,” the 150-plus couples who filled red-cushioned seats seemed just as hungry – but not for food or basketball.

These couples – engaged sweethearts in bright orange OSU sweatshirts, grandparents with matching gray hair and all ages in between – came to devour something else: knowledge on making the most of married life.

By 1:30 p.m. on a Saturday, they’d already spent several hours listening to marriage experts Les and Leslie Parrott explain how to improve relationships. As Les Parrott flipped on his lapel microphone for the start of the afternoon session, he smiled and noted that he’d already sold out copies of one book he brought.

The title: “The Control Freak.”

Parrott jokingly wondered how to interpret the brisk sales. Then he moved on to the topic of the hour.

“What do you guys fight about?” he asked.

“Money,” somebody yelled out.

“That tops the list,” Parrott replied. “We have more conflicts over money than any other single topic in marriage. What else do we fight about?”

“The remote,” one man replied.

“Parenting,” someone else said.

“Free time,” another person answered.


“Sex!? Who said that?” Parrott asked with a grin. “Stand up and talk more about that.”

‘Something we could do’

As Oklahoma political and religious leaders plot strategies to fight the state’s high divorce rate, they say much of the battle will – and must – occur at the local level.

Mary Myrick, president of Public Strategies, the Oklahoma City-based business hired to manage the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, points to Stillwater as a community taking an active approach.

About a year and a half ago, Stillwater churches began meeting to discuss a community marriage policy, said the Rev. Joe Wilmoth, pastor of Calvary Assembly of God.

“We felt like that was something we could do here in Stillwater and Payne County to encourage stronger marriages and head off divorces,” Wilmoth said.

Church leaders developed the Stillwater Community Marriage Covenant and created a nonprofit corporation called Marriage Partners of Stillwater Inc.

Marriage Partners organized the recent “Becoming Soul Mates” seminar, which featured the Parrotts, co-directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University.

Gov. Frank Keating appointed the husband-wife team to serve a one-year stint as Oklahoma’s “marriage ambassadors.” The Parrotts returned home in June 2001 but have remained active with Oklahoma’s marriage renewal efforts.

Among the couples attending the recent seminar were newlyweds Jeremy and Amy Seiger, OSU graduate students who tied the knot – for life, they hope – less than nine months ago.

“We haven’t had this fancy fairy tale in our heads about anything,” said Amy Seiger, 22, who’s from Stonewall, southwest of Ada. “We’re pretty much reality-based. It’s probably a little bit harder at times than we expected, but not a whole lot.”

The two met in summer 1998, attended many of the same classes and shared a friendship before they became a couple. They knew each other for two years before they became engaged and were engaged for about a year before they married.

“We talked about a lot of stuff – our beliefs, our future – even before we started dating,” said Jeremy Seiger, 28, a Hennessey native. “We realized we had so much in common.”

Still enjoying marital bliss, they saw the daylong seminar as a way to “spare some headache in the future,” Jeremy Seiger said.

As the Parrotts discussed the potential perils of unconscious roles and unspoken rules, the Seigers could identify.

“When my truck needs an oil change, I’m used to my dad – as soon as I tell him, he pretty much gets it done,” Amy Seiger said. “He (Jeremy) is a little bit more slack on it, and it bothers me at times.”

For Amy Seiger, Sunday afternoon means housecleaning. But Jeremy Seiger doesn’t relish the thought of dusting the entertainment center at that particular time.

“I’m trying to sit around and relax, and she’s up tidying the house and vacuuming and stuff like that,” he said. “And I feel kind of guilty, or she might make a remark… right in the middle of a movie at a critical point.”

Her response: “I’m used to that because that’s the way my mom is. We clean up the house on the weekends because that’s the only time we have.”

They learned at the seminar not how to avoid such disagreements, but how to handle them in the right way when they inevitably occur.

Les Parrott tackled what he called “the four horsemen of the Apocalypse” – criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling – and suggested “tools to short-circuit the system.”

Among those tools: conflict cards, sharing withholds, and the X-Y-Z formula. (As in, “In situation X, when you do Y, I feel Z.”)

The idea of such relationship- building seminars is that marriage is a skill that can be taught .

“Americans are not stupid,” said Diane Sollee, founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education in Washington, D.C. “If you tell them how to do something right, they’re not going to just ignore it.

“You cannot take one of these marriage education courses and not have your marriage changed.”

But too often, Sollee said, couples receive little or no training before or after the wedding.

“It’s like there’s a big pep rally before the football game called a wedding,” she said. “Then you’re out on the field, and you don’t even know a single play.”

One couple’s approach

Like the Seigers, Gene and Grace Krenzer attended the recent seminar in hopes of improving their relationship.

But the Krenzers, whose marriage has survived nearly 35 years, also wanted to learn techniques for helping others. They counsel engaged couples at Stillwater’s Hillcrest Baptist Church.

“I find a tremendous range,” Gene Krenzer said of the couples they counsel. “Some are very realistic and… have a reasonable expectation. Other people are dreaming.

“And I think there’s another category of ones who don’t really have much of an idea; they don’t really know what they think is coming. They’re just worried about today.”

Before the Krenzers married, they “went through a couple of real short sessions” with a minister, he said. But they received no real premarital training.

They sought counseling after her perfectionism and his sometimes short temper clashed and became a problem.

“What we learned… was that he never did anything good enough for his father, so when I made a critical comment or something wasn’t good enough, he got very upset because that’s what his father did,” Grace Krenzer said.

“You find a lot of things related to your own origin. What happened to you growing up can affect your own marriage.”

Gene Krenzer said his wife learned to use a lighter approach in dealing with him.

“On my side, I’m more conscious that I can be explosive,” he said. “When that situation arises, I sometimes have to walk away from it rather than saying anything… until we cool off.”

She added, “Too, we think that discussing things beforehand, and what our expectations are, helps.”

Waiting period

Federal law requires a waiting period before a person can buy a firearm.

Stillwater religious leaders believe that it’s just as important to have a waiting period – a learning period – before a couple can wed.

About three dozen local clergy members have signed the community marriage covenant, which sets minimum standards for church weddings.

The covenant promotes sexual abstinence among unmarried persons, encourages dating couples to receive relationship instruction and requires a four- to six-month waiting period between the time an engaged couple contacts a church and a wedding is performed.

According to the covenant, standard marriage preparation will include:

– Use of a premarital inventory or assessment to help identify couple strengths and potential discussion areas.

– A commitment to sexual abstinence until marriage.

– Individual or group instruction addressing communication, conflict resolution, finances, human sexuality and family planning, family of origin issues, marriage as a covenant, and matters of faith.

– A mentoring relationship with a trained married couple in the church. A mentoring couple will meet with the engaged couple three times before the wedding and three times after the wedding.

– Counseling that addresses the spiritual dimensions of marriage and family.

Wilmoth serves as volunteer president of Marriage Partners of Stillwater Inc., which includes unpaid board members from 11 churches and the OSU Family Relations and Child Development Department.

Wilmoth and other board members write a regular marriage column published by the local newspaper. The organization also has launched a Web site,www.marriagepartners.org, that offers marriage advice and resources.

While initial efforts have focused on premarital counseling, Wilmoth said Marriage Partners supports a wider approach, including relationship training in public schools and marriage education programs by state agencies.

“We’re concerned with the whole spectrum; for instance, people who have already been divorced and get married again,” Wilmoth said. “We want to help them with those kinds of relationships, as well as with divorce recovery things.”

Honoring commitment

For the second year, Stillwater will celebrate “Community Marriage Day” today.

Organizers urge churches to show videos or slide presentations of long-term, happily married couples.

Participating churches will display wedding albums and photographs, reserve pews for couples married 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 or more years, and honor the longest-married couple.

“Over the last few decades, there has gotten to be the message that marriage is really not that big of a deal,” Wilmont said of the reason for the celebration. “From a Christian perspective, marriage is highly valued by God, and we need to honor what God honors.

“A good, successful marriage takes a lot of hard work, and those who put the effort into it deserve some recognition for that.”

Headline: Many extol possibilities program poses
Byline: Bobby Ross Jr.
Publication Date: February 10, 2002
Page: 7-A

SHAWNEE – Just before noon on a recent Monday, 11 women marched into a conference room. Some carried brown bags; others white sacks from the local deli.

It looked like a typical lunchtime meeting, but the stakes were higher.

These women – state welfare and health agents, extension service educators and tribal housing and HEAD Start officials – came to develop an attack plan for fighting divorce.

A major emphasis of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative is to make services available in all 77 counties, said Mary Myrick, president of Public Strategies Inc., the private company hired to manage the initiative.

At the Pottawatomie County meeting, the discussion focused on groups who could benefit from the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program.

Possibilities mentioned included high school classes, church groups and single mothers on welfare.

In other words: just about everybody.

Lani Vasconcellos, a family and consumer scientist with the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service, supervises educators in 19 southeastern Oklahoma counties.

Since training to teach the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program, Vasconcellos said she’s heard the same question repeatedly: “Where can I sign up?”

“When I came back and told friends, family, acquaintances that I’d been to the training, they were like, ‘When are we going to have this? Where can I go to get it?’ I think there’s a big need for it, and I think a lot of people know they’re in need,” Vasconcellos said.

Along with extension service educators, Department of Human Services social workers and Health Department psychologists, child guidance staff members and home-visiting nurses will help deliver relationship and marriage education, according to marriage initiative plans.

That directive has caused some concern, said Joani Webster, who directs the Department of Human Services’ Pottawatomie County office.

“Certainly, a lot of our staff, when they hear this, they think … ‘Am I going to be a marriage counselor?'” Webster said.

“No, you’re not,” she said she responds. “These are going to be services where you will simply be referring the customers that you work with each day.”

In Caddo County, social worker Paula Moore said her first reaction was, “Oh no, here we go again, one more way to get involved in people’s lives.”

But after training, Moore said she changed her mind.

“I see the use of PREP (the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program) being very beneficial to a lot of people,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I am hoping that I can convince my clients to attend these trainings as I believe it will help them greatly.”

Headline: Marriages, government make strange bedfellows
Byline: Bobby Ross Jr.
Publication Date: February 16, 2002
Page: 1-A

At first blush, it might seem like none of the government’s business if somebody marries – or divorces.

Many economists, sociologists and psychologists argue, however, that what happens in the home directly affects spending by the House and Senate.

From welfare to crime to health issues, broken homes lead to problems that cost taxpayers millions, marriage advocates maintain.

“If someone’s car crashes, there’s an insurance company,” said Diane Sollee, founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education in Washington.

“When someone’s marriage fails, it’s the government that has to step in and try to pick up the pieces.”

Sollee, a self-described liberal Democrat, knows a bit about divorce. Her husband left her for his secretary after 18 years of marriage.

She spent years, she said, “as part of the expert brigade that says marriage doesn’t matter – kids do fine either way.”

Then research kept crossing Sollee’s desk that proved just the opposite, she said.

Sollee is a fan of Gov. Frank Keating, a conservative Republican, and the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative.

Keating launched the marriage initiative three years ago, setting a goal of reducing the state’s No. 2-in-the-nation divorce rate by one-third by 2010.

A year later, he became the first governor in the nation to set aside Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds – $10 million in all – to support programs aimed at strengthening marriages.

However some, including the governor, would like to see the Legislature take more drastic action.

Keating has urged lawmakers to enact a covenant marriage law and outlaw no-fault divorce.

“Every session I try, but there doesn’t seem to be much support,” Keating said of those proposals.

State Rep. Joe Sweeden, D-Pawhuska, said he likes parts of Keating’s marriage initiative and dislikes others. He declined to be more specific.

Like the governor, Sweeden said Oklahoma must attack a divorce rate that the legislator described as “quite scary.”

Sweeden is pushing House Bill 2668, dubbed the “Marriage Preparation and Preservation Act of 2002.”

As written, the bill would require a 30-day waiting period to receive a marriage license unless a couple provided evidence of premarital counseling.

The bill also would add “life-managing skills including marriage and relationship skills-based education” to the state’s public school curriculum.

Sweeden called the bill a work in progress and said he’s open to suggestions.

“My purpose is to try to keep people married,” he said. “I’m going to try to keep it alive, and we’re going to continue to work with it in the session.”

Laws and hearts

Since 1997, three states – Arizona, Louisiana and Arkansas – have passed covenant marriage laws.

Under such laws, couples can choose a covenant marriage license or a standard marriage license.

A covenant marriage license requires premarital classes, mandates counseling for marital problems and makes it more difficult for a couple to divorce. On the other hand, a couple with a standard marriage license can skip the counseling and divorce for virtually any reason.

Rep. Ray Vaughn, R-Edmond, and Sen. Owen Laughlin, R-Woodward, have filed covenant marriage bills this session, but neither holds out much hope for passage.

“It’s always been a struggle to get it heard by committee,” Laughlin said.

Laughlin’s bill was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Brad Henry, D-Shawnee, an attorney. Henry did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Katherine Spaht, a Louisiana State University family law professor, wrote Louisiana’s covenant marriage law. Spaht said lawyers have killed covenant marriage proposals in several states.

“The lawyers make a lot of money off no-fault divorce, and it was the best thing that ever happened to them,” Spaht said. “They will fight to the death any divorce reform because it’s a matter of their own pocketbook.

“In a number of states, divorce reform bills are referred to committees with a number of lawyers. Inevitably, they die in committee.”

Most states have focused not on making divorce more difficult, but on strengthening marriages, said Christi Goodman, senior policy specialist with the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Some of the ways states are strengthening marriages include marital counseling and marriage education programs, reducing license fees for couples who complete premarital counseling, and reducing the state tax burden on married couples,” Goodman said.

Steven Nock, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia, is conducting a five-year study comparing couples who choose covenant marriages with those who opt for standard marriage licenses.

So far, Nock said, he’s found that covenant marriage couples tend to be more conservative, more educated, more religious, more connected to friends and family and less likely to have lived together before marriage.

Midway through the study, Nock and his co-researchers report many more divorces among those with standard marriage licenses, but it’s still unclear whether the covenant marriage – or other factors – make that the case.

One thing is certain, Nock said: Covenant marriage laws have more to do with economics than morality.

“The leading cause of poverty in the United States is divorce, and the one who pays for the consequences… is the state government,” he said.

Contract vs. covenant

Supporters stress that obtaining a covenant marriage license would be optional.

The idea, they say, is to make couples think about the long-range implications of saying, “I do.”

“A contract is based upon mutual distrust,” said the Rev. Tom Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Del City. “A covenant is based upon mutual trust.

“Actually, a covenant marriage means that the two parties are entering into a covenant with God and saying, ‘Our intention is to be married until death do we part.’… They say, ‘Look, we may have problems, but God has the solution for everything we may face.'”

Elliff is a former Southern Baptist Convention president who leads the convention’s Council on Family Life. At their annual national meeting last year, Southern Baptists endorsed covenant marriages and urged states to make that legal option available.

Others say the government can’t legislate love, respect and commitment.

“Thinking you can may take away the needed effort to achieve them,” said the Rev. Michael McEwen, priest at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Oklahoma City. “I think the kind of intensive, church-based counseling we do in my denomination is more likely to work than legal sanctions.”

Critics point out that only about 3 percent of couples in Louisiana and Arizona have opted for covenant marriage licenses.

In Louisiana, the covenant marriage option has suffered from a lack of support from court clerks and mainline church leaders, Spaht said.

“My impression… is that churches have become secularized, and they’ve forgotten what the Gospel says about divorce,” she said.

“They’re dealing with congregations in which virtually everyone is touched by divorce. They don’t want to talk about it, and they sure don’t want to preach about it.”

In Arkansas, Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor, pushed for the covenant marriage law that passed last year, said Chris Pyle, Huckabee’s director of family policy.

“We’re not relying on the county clerks or any of the government bureaucracy in terms of strategy,” Pyle said. “We know that the vast majority of marriages occur in a church, so we’re going to the churches.”

Among the converts is the Rev. Mark Evans, senior pastor of Little Rock’s Church at Rock Creek. Evans said he won’t marry any couple who refuse to fulfill requirements for a covenant marriage license.

“I try to encourage… couples to get ready for the storm before it hits,” Evans said.

Headline: Some prefer quick option for wedding
Byline: Bobby Ross Jr.
Publication Date: February 16, 2002
Page: 1-B

MIAMI, OK – For sweethearts in love – or lust – and in a hurry to tie the knot, Las Vegas has nothing on this far northeastern Oklahoma county seat.

For $100, a couple can pay for a marriage license, blood tests – the results take 15 minutes – and a short ceremony at Laverne’s wedding chapel across the street from the Ottawa County Courthouse.

With the courthouse, a laboratory that offers blood tests and Laverne’s all within walking distance, the whole process often takes less than an hour, a court official said.

“We just have them come from everywhere,” deputy court clerk Melissa Frye said of the lovebirds who flock to Miami to say “I do.”

Ottawa County’s 2,175 marriages in 2001 ranked it third among Oklahoma’s 77 counties, state records show.

Only the state’s two largest counties issued more marriage licenses: Oklahoma County, with 7,342, and Tulsa County, with 4,140.

Most states make couples wait one to five days before they may marry, according to the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.

Kansas and Missouri – Ottawa County’s neighbors to the north and east – require a three-day waiting period. Nearby Arkansas also has a waiting period.

But Oklahoma does not, making Miami an attractive locale for brides and grooms whose passions won’t wait 72 hours.

“It’s quicker and easier. We’ve married generations,” said Laverne Harris, who opened her wedding chapel in 1966.

Asked if the marriages last, Harris replied, “They’re happy when they’re here. I think they do. You got to get married somewhere.”

Not everyone in town is a big fan of the quickie weddings.

At the First Assembly of God in Miami, senior pastor Cary Moore said he won’t perform a wedding unless the couple gives him six months’ notice.

Moore said he refuses to marry anyone who won’t submit to premarital counseling.

“I’ve taken some heat over that, to be honest with you,” he said. “You find out real quick who’s really serious about a lifelong commitment and who’s not.”

Object ID: 1020632
Headline: Pair use own marriage to lift others Family ministries director, wife persuade couples to overcome
Byline: Bobby Ross Jr.
Publication Date: February 16, 2002
Page: 1-B

DEL CITY – Married for nearly 25 years, Peter and Debbie Livingston fit the profile of the perfect couple.

He’s the director of family ministries at First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, among the nation’s 25 largest Southern Baptist churches with more than 14,000 members.

She’s a dedicated mom who raised two biological children, Neal, 22, and Meredith, 18, and homeschools the couple’s five adopted children.

A miniature version of the United Nations, the adopted children are Natasha, 14, from Bulgaria; Joshua, 11, who is Hispanic; Lily, 10, and Elijah, 8, from Cambodia; and Noah, 7, who is black.

“We just kind of adopt as the Lord opens doors,” Debbie said, describing the couple’s compassion for broken families and broken hearts.

But the Livingstons weren’t always a portrait straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Messy romance

Fifteen years ago, the Livingstons’ lives were a mess.

Busy chasing a career, Peter neglected Debbie and their two young children.

“I had my priorities out of whack,” he said. “I wasn’t communicating with my wife. I didn’t understand the deepest needs of my wife.”

Looking for an escape, Debbie engaged in a not-so-secret extramarital affair and ultimately filed for divorce.

“I was very unhappy, and I thought that I could find my happiness elsewhere,” she said.

“We had poor communications skills. We had no ability for conflict resolution. We were just traveling in different directions.” Finding God

At age 16, Peter Livingston had committed his life to Jesus Christ at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting.

However, he’d never really lived a Christian life – until the day his wife left him.

That day, he promised God that if He’d bring back his wife, he’d do whatever it took to restore the relationship.

“He became a different man that day,” Debbie said. “He changed almost instantaneously. It was incredible…. I just saw a total transformation by God.”

But it took Debbie about six months to find her way back home. After leaving, she started attending church and met an older woman who encouraged her to seek God’s plan for her life.

“I dedicated my life to Jesus Christ,” Debbie said, “and then I came back home and began working on our marriage for the first time.”

Remaining steadfast

In 1999, the Rev. Tom Elliff, pastor at First Southern, asked Peter to step down as chief executive of a local bio-tech company and join the church as family minister.

The appointment reflected First Southern’s support of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative and its emphasis on strengthening families.

“The family was instituted by God before the church… so the way to build a strong church is to build strong families,” said Elliff, a former Southern Baptist Convention president who leads the convention’s Council on Family Life.

While emphasizing premarital counseling and post-marriage enrichment, First Southern also offers programs for single parents, divorcees and others from broken homes.

“That’s where my heart is. That’s where my heart breaks,” Elliff said. “We’re assaulting that massively by offering all kinds of help.”

In November, nearly 1,000 couples who attend First Southern, 6400 S Sooner Road, signed covenant marriage certificates.

While not legally binding, the pledges committed the couples to “remain steadfast in unconditional love, reconciliation, and sexual purity, while purposefully growing in our covenant marriage relationship.”

At one time, Jeff Whitefield, 37, and his wife, Theresa, 42, seemed headed for divorce court, he said. He struggled with infidelity and pornography, but God helped him find a better way, he said.

“God didn’t throw marriage to us and expect us to play with it like a hand grenade,” said Jeff Whitefield, who teaches Sunday school at First Southern. “He gave us an instructional book.”

The Whitefields took home their covenant marriage certificate and placed it on their living-room mantel.

“We took all the kids into the room and said, ‘You need to know that your mom and dad will never divorce,'” said Jeff Whitefield, whose four children range from 6 to 14 years old. “That gives our kids a huge sense of stability.”

Busy week

This week, First Southern held a three-day training seminar for the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program, a marriage enhancement curriculum developed by Scott Stanley and Howard Markman of the University of Denver’s Center for Marital and Family Studies.

Wednesday night, the church invited teen-agers and their parents to “Ba-Sex,” a sex education class that approaches issues such as premarital intercourse and oral sex from a biblical perspective.

This weekend, the church is the site of a Song of Solomon Conference, a national tour by the Rev. Tommy Nelson, a Denton, Texas, pastor and author of “The Book of Romance.” Nelson uses the Song of Solomon as a guide to an exciting romantic relationship.

“It is an intense emphasis of First Southern to become available and even assertively reach out to help strengthen, build and restore families in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area,” Peter Livingston said. “It is a conscious, deliberate effort to improve the quality of life in the home.”

The Livingstons use the story of their struggle – and how they overcame it – to persuade other couples that they, too, can make it.

“People have always said, ‘You guys are so real. You have shown how you can take something awful and make it right again,'” Debbie said.

Peter said, “We share what we’ve been through. It creates accountability for us, and it also tells people, ‘We’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt and don’t want to go back.'”

Headline: In marriage, new Oklahoma breaks with past
Byline: Bobby Ross Jr.
Publication Date: February 23, 2002
Page: 1-A

Move aside, “Leave it to Beaver.”

Hello, “Sex and the City.”

This is not your grandparents’ America.

The number of Oklahoma couples living together outside marriage nearly doubled in 10 years – from 27,001 in 1990 to 53,307 in 2000, census figures show.

“It is an issue that we’re concerned about,” said Howard Hendrick, state Department of Human Services director and Gov. Frank Keating’s Cabinet secretary for health and human services.

Andy and Jessica Stavros of Oklahoma City shared an apartment for nearly a year before they married in August 2000.

“My family was really against it, but it worked out better economically,” said Jessica Stavros, 23.

“We were paying two rents for an apartment I was never at…. I would go visit this apartment once a week, and it was just ridiculous to keep paying for it.”

Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s number of single-mother households with children under 18 climbed almost 22 percent between 1990 and 2000, hitting 94,403, the census found. One in three Oklahoma babies is born to an unmarried woman, according to a recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore.

Nationally, married couples with children under 18 – the classic nuclear family – made up 23.5 percent of all households in the 2000 census, compared to 45 percent in 1960.

To be sure, the picture of mom, dad and two kids in a station wagon – or even a minivan – has changed.

“Living together has become a step most people take along the path between dating and marriage,” said Dorian Solot, executive director of the Boston-based Alternatives to Marriage Project.

“Rather than be alarmed by it, we need to recognize the changes by expanding our image of who we consider to be ‘family.'”

Marriage still popular

Still, nine out of 10 Americans will marry sometime in their lifetime, according to a new Census Bureau report.

That’s down from roughly 19 out of 20 a half-century ago.

According to the census report, “Number, Timing and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 1996,” nearly everyone marries; nearly half of recent first marriages may end in divorce; and most people remarry after divorcing from a first marriage.

The census study also found a correlation between educational level and marriage. College graduates are more likely to marry and less likely to separate, the study reported.

“Education is often used as a proxy for socioeconomic status, which we also know is related to marriage and divorce,” said Rose Kreider, the census report’s co-author. “That’s just sort of generally understood.”

In the view of state and federal officials touting government-subsidized marriage programs, the question isn’t whether most people will tie the knot – but how to help them tie it in the best way possible.

“It’s not as though we have to convince Americans marriage is a good idea,” said Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families in the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

“It’s a widely shared value.”

Keating launched the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative three years ago with a goal of reducing the state’s No. 2-in-the-nation divorce rate by one-third by 2010.

The governor set aside $10 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds – welfare money – for programs aimed at improving Oklahomans’ marriage skills.

“We’re helping couples learn, and learn to practice, conflict-resolution techniques, communications skills, agreement on child-rearing practices, and agreement on money matters,” Hendrick said.

Virginia professor E. Mavis Hetherington has caused a stir among pro-marriage advocates with a new book, “For Better or For Worse: Divorced Reconsidered.” The book suggests divorce may be less damaging to children and families than widely thought.

Nevertheless, Hetherington calls herself strongly pro-marriage.

“I think the easiest way to raise a kid is in a marriage with two supportive, involved, loving parents,” said Hetherington, whose own marriage has lasted 46 years.

But she said she worries about government programs that encourage high-risk people – such as single mothers on welfare – to marry.

“I think that can be very destructive,” she said. “What we’re going to do is push a woman into a relationship where she’s likely to have a second child… and she’s likely to end up five years out with two children and no husband.”

Even couples who live together value marriage, Solot said.

For most, cohabiting is a temporary arrangement, she said.

“The reason most people live together,” she said, “is that they truly, deeply care about marriage, and they want to be absolutely sure their partner is the right one before making a till-death-do-us-part commitment.”

But couples who live together before marriage are even more likely to divorce, marriage advocates respond.

Hetherington acknowledges that fact but said, “It may be because higher-risk people, less-conventional people who are more divorce-prone are the ones who opt to cohabit. If they do that and then get married, they get a higher divorce rate.”

Ticket to success?

To hear Hendrick tell it, a marriage certificate is more than a piece of paper – it’s a ticket.

A ticket, he says, to a longer, healthier life; less poverty and more economic prosperity; and better adjusted, more academically successful children.

“Does that mean we’re going to start compelling people to get married?” Hendrick said. “No. But I think it’s important for us to communicate what the results of studies indicate.”

A team of scholars for the Center for the American Experiment, the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education and the Institute for American Values released a report earlier this month titled “Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-One Conclusions from the Social Scientists.”

Among the report’s conclusions:

Married couples seem to build more wealth on average than singles or couples who live together.

Divorce and unmarried childbearing increase poverty for both children and mothers.

Married men earn more money than single men with similar education and job histories.

Parental divorce – or failure to marry – appears to increase children’s risk of school failure, while divorce reduces the likelihood that children will graduate from college and achieve high-status jobs.

Children who live with their own two married parents enjoy better physical health, on average, than children in other family forms.

Married people, especially married men, have longer life expectancies than otherwise similar singles.

Marriage is associated with better health and lower rates of injury, illness and disability for both men and women.

Boys raised in single-parent families are more likely to engage in delinquent and criminal behavior.

Divorce damage

Hetherington’s book, based on 30 years of research involving nearly 4,000 people, suggests 75 percent or 80 percent of children from divorced families eventually adjust well to their changed lives.

Authors of the “Why Marriage Matters” report responded: “The 20 percent to 25 percent figure (of children who do not adjust well) is not in dispute. What is in dispute is whether such a figure constitutes a serious social problem.”

Maggie Gallagher, a researcher who helped write the “Why Marriage Matters” report, said the evidence proves that cohabiting – living together – is not the same as marrying.

The report contends “adults who live together are more similar to singles than to married couples in terms of physical health and emotional well-being and mental health, as well as in assets and earnings.”

One reason, Gallagher said, is that at least one partner in a cohabiting couple does not want to marry – at least not at this time, or to this partner.

“So, one of the partners is much less committed to that person and that relationship,” Gallagher said.

In a cohabiting relationship, she said, one partner might say, “It’s nobody’s business if I drink too much or smoke too much or drive too fast.

“All these things come together and end up influencing the way people behave,” Gallagher said.

But Solot calls such research “extremely misleading.

“For instance, as a group, married people tend to be older than single people, and as a result they also tend to make more money,” Solot said.

“Most people are happy, whether they’re married or unmarried. Groups who want to promote marriage have made a lot of noise about some very minor differences.

Headline: So Happy Together Midwest City pair share secret to lasting marriage
Byline: Bobby Ross Jr.
Publication Date: February 23, 2002
Page: 1-B

MIDWEST CITY – This is a love story.

Kent and Theresa Pellam, white-haired retirees in their 80s, still gush over each other like 20-something sweethearts.

“There’s probably not a day that goes by… that we don’t hug each other in the kitchen or in the hall,” Kent Pellam said. “At 85, you’re not into the sex – that ain’t the thing of it – you can get just as much by putting your arm around somebody and holding them.”

Especially when the one you hold is the one you have loved for 60 years.

“This is one of the cutest couples you will ever find anywhere,” said daughter-in-law Linda Pellam, wife of Kent Jr., 55.

Kent Pellam is a world-class talker who shoots the bull at Burger King each morning with a few buddies.

A retired welder and machinist, he works three to four hours a day in his garage shop, making wooden bowls, hourglasses and crafts such as stained-glass pictures.

“I’m kind of nuts, ain’t I, Theresa?” Kent Pellam said as his wife fussed over his work.

“He goes from one thing to another,” she told a visitor, smiling.

Theresa Pellam likes reading and cooking.

“Oh, she makes a mean baked lasagna,” her husband said, licking his lips.

She also crochets baby hats with matching booties – blue and pink most of the year, but red around Valentine’s Day and Christmas – that she donates to local hospitals.

Since 1986, she’s made 738 hat-and-booty combinations and 957 stand-alone hats, according to the cream-colored pad where she keeps track of her handiwork.

“Even though she just had a hip replacement, she still continues at a record pace,” Linda Pellam said.

“She was visiting me not too long ago, and I told her that my niece just found out she was expecting, and within an hour, she had crocheted a beautiful hat for me to give her. Amazing.”

The Pellams, who raised two daughters and a son, have four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Relatives and friends describe them as a picture of love.

“My parents have always been in love with each other, and it has always shown,” said Kent Pellam Jr., who owns a motel in Branson, Mo. “They have been, are, will always be best friends.

“They play a card game called Skip-Bo every night… and they also put puzzles together on most gloomy days, when they can’t get out.”

Religious faith plays a strong role in his parents’ relationship, he said. Kent and Theresa Pellam attend St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Midwest City.

Kent Pellam grew up Methodist. He joined his wife in the Catholic faith, he said, after a priest told him to be one or the other but to “get the hell out of the middle of the street.”

Among the 1,000 families who worship at St. Philip Neri are many – like the Pellams – whose marriages have survived 50 or 60 years, deacon Jim Young said.

“It’s amazingly frequent,” Young said. “I think these people are still from an era when marriage was viewed a lot differently than it is today.

“We’re trying to restore that view of marriage – that it’s forever, not for convenience, and it’s a contract between three: the husband, the wife and God.”

Love at first sight

This is a love story.

The opening scene: a November 1941 election watch party in Rome, N.Y. Boy spots Italian girl dining with her friends and is smitten – for life.

“I just said, ‘Wow, this is nice,'” Kent Pellam recalled, relishing the memory. “Like any young fellow, I acted like a big shot and introduced her to the guy running for mayor.”

Theresa Pellam said, “We just hit it off. We started going together, and we were engaged by Christmas.”

As the United States revved its war machine in the wake of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Kent and Theresa made wedding plans. They married in May 1942, after just six months together.

“I just didn’t see any sense in wasting any time because the war was coming on, and I was up for possible draft,” Kent Pellam said.

He ended up not joining the military.

Instead, he managed a cable mill and trained women to perform tasks previously handled by men.

“I never felt bad that I didn’t go in the service, because somebody had to stay home to do what had to be done,” he said.

“Sometimes, I think about it. I don’t know if I missed something or if I didn’t miss something.”

More than infatuation

This is a love story.

Love. That’s the key word, in the Pellams’ estimation.

“Too many people get married, and they think they’re in love,” Kent Pellam said. “And that word ‘love’ has got used so much for every damn thing.

“Now, myself. Go back 60 years. I met a girl. I was in love. I didn’t marry that one…. I met another girl, and I didn’t marry her, because that’s not love.”

Then he met Theresa, he said, and he found true love.

“It’s a different thing entirely,” he said of love versus infatuation. “If you’re in love with somebody, and then they become your friend – not just your wife, your lover.”

His voice trailed off.

“Hell, we have problems,” he said. “We argue. It wouldn’t be no fun if we didn’t. But you can’t stay mad too long. You don’t have too long to wait.”

When the Pellams married, divorces and out-of-wedlock births occurred, they said. But there was a stigma attached.

“Never in the whole 60 years… has it entered my mind to leave her,” Kent Pellam said. “After the first year, the second year, anytime, there’s no way I could ever live without her.

“If something should happen to split us up – which is going to happen, we know that – I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. And I know she feels the same way.”

Pressed for the secret to making a marriage last, Theresa Pellam suggested, “Maybe you both got to give a little bit. I don’t know. I don’t like a lot of the things he does.”

Like what?

“Well, I can’t say particularly,” she replied, diplomatically.

“I talk too much,” he said, and they both laughed.

Kent Pellam scratched his head and came up with a piece of advice for married couples: “Never hang wallpaper with your wife.”

They both laughed again.

“I do not know that some of these divorces today, a guy gets mad, and his wife walks out tomorrow,” Kent Pellam said. “It’s too easy. It’s too easy to get a divorce today.”

Theresa Pellam said, “It’s not so much that it’s too easy. It’s common is all. If they don’t like it, they just separate themselves.”

He interjected, “It’s like buying a car. If it don’t work, you just go get another one.”

Kent Pellam looked at his white-haired bride and smiled.

“We’re going to make it, kid. We’re going to go for 100.”

She laughed and nodded in agreement.

Headline: Honeymoon evolves each day for couple Deliberate steps taken in hopes of lifelong union
Byline: Bobby Ross Jr.
Publication Date: February 23, 2002
Page: 1-B

MOORE – Jay McCurry buys flowers for his wife, Kelly, just about every Friday.

She says he never asks her to wash his socks or put dirty plates in the dishwasher.

Just the other night, the superhusband got down on his hands and knees and cleaned the toilets – yes, toilets – in the couple’s Moore home.

“People say that after six months, the honeymoon is over,” said Jay McCurry, 28, a Mid-America Bible College administrator and adjunct instructor. “Well, in my opinion, that’s a choice.”

“We’re still on our honeymoon,” agreed Kelly McCurry, 29, who teaches music at Central Elementary School in Moore.

Married for three years and expecting their first child in April, the McCurrys sing together in the choir at Trinity Church of the Nazarene in Oklahoma City.

They say they took deliberate steps to ensure a happy, healthy relationship.

Those steps included six months of premarital counseling before they said “I do.”

“It just gets everything started on the right foot,” Jay McCurry said.

The couple met in May 1998 at Tulsa’s Oral Roberts University, where both earned master’s degrees. After six months of dating, Kelly accepted Jay’s proposal to marry him.

Both wanted a marriage that would last a lifetime. Kelly had seen her parents divorce when she was 7. Jay’s parents have been married for 36 years, but divorce had touched others on his side of the family.

So, they found a counseling center that offered discounts for Oral Roberts students and began examining their relationship.

They learned that for Jay McCurry, issues were black and white with no gray, whereas Kelly “had a lot of gray areas,” she said.

They also delved into their differing backgrounds.

“One area in particular was that he came from this perfect family – this stable, secure family – and here I came from this kind of insecure, unstable background,” Kelly McCurry said.

She felt “that maybe I wasn’t worthy of him.”

Their dating histories were another issue.

Kelly McCurry had dated frequently in college and come close to marrying two former boyfriends. Her husband had not dated much.

In fact, when asked whether their relationship was a matter of love at first sight, Kelly McCurry laughed and said, “For him.”

“Pretty close,” he said, not denying it.

For her part, Kelly McCurry said, “It would have been so easy to marry someone else. I’m glad I didn’t settle for second-best.”

At that point, Jay McCurry picked up the tape recorder and put it close to her mouth to make sure it picked up.

“You’re so goofy,” she said, laughing.

Through counseling, the McCurrys said, they learned the value of working as a team – of communicating about matters large and small.

They never make a decision without both agreeing to it, Jay McCurry said.

“I don’t just say to myself, ‘I want to go out and buy a new truck,'” he said. “We sit down and say, ‘What’s the need? What are we looking for?’ We really talk it out.”

Finances were a frustration during their first year of marriage, but they hardly discuss money anymore, they said. She balances the checkbook. He pays the bills.

As for the secret of their marriage, they believe in the power of prayer.

“We pray together every day, usually before we go to bed,” Jay McCurry said.

Kindness also goes a long way, they say.

“So many people, they just say negative things about each other: ‘He’s such a slob,’ or ‘He can be a jerk at times,'” Jay McCurry said. “And you’ll never hear her say anything like that about me, and you’ll never hear me say it about her.”

Kelly McCurry said, “If I’m ever describing my husband to someone, I’m always saying, ‘My husband is such a godly role model for my family. I’m so proud of him, and I honor him.'”

The McCurrys say they are not just husband and wife.

They are best friends.

“Some couples don’t enjoy each other,” she said. “I think they tolerate each other. We so enjoy each other. I mean, I would rather spend time with Jay than anybody.”

Headline: Humor remains center of union
Byline: Bobby Ross Jr.
Publication Date: February 23, 2002
Page: 2-B

TULSA – The Rev. Kent House and his wife, Janie, disagree on why their marriage has survived – make that thrived – for 27 years.

House, pastor of Skelly Drive Baptist Church in Tulsa, mentions a common focus, a common goal.

“And that is to serve the Lord,” he said.

His wife, on the other hand, points to the way her husband always has made her laugh.

They met playing cards at the Baptist Student Union at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, she said.

“I was attracted to him because he made me laugh hysterically, and it hasn’t stopped for 27 years,” Janie House said.

“He sees humor in everything, and it’s just contagious. When I think of our marriage, I just think of fun times…. Our kids would say, ‘Dad’s dorky, and Mom laughs at him.'”

Their son, Isaac, 23, attends the University of Oklahoma. Daughter Cassie, 18, is an Oklahoma State University freshman.

Kent and Janie House came from modest backgrounds, they said, and never had any money in college.

For their first Valentine’s Day, Kent bought potted mums for Janie.

“As I recall, they were less than $1,” he said. “Of course, I had them delivered to the dorm.”

Janie ran downstairs expecting to see a bouquet of roses like the other girls were receiving.

“On that day and for many days thereafter, she and her Valentine were the object of many jokes,” Kent said.

But every year since, he has bought the same gift. This year, he spent $3.50.

“I can afford roses now,” he said. “But roses mean nothing to my wife…. What was a joke to others 29 years ago has become a yearly reminder of our commitment to each other.”

A willingness to laugh can help a marriage through the inevitable difficult times, Janie said.

“Most generally, things do work out… especially when you turn them over to the Lord,” she said. “To just know God is in control and you have your sense of humor… things are never as bad as they seem.”

Headline: Marriage in state losing popularity Data not surprising to religious officials
Byline: Bobby Ross Jr.
Publication Date: May 25, 2002
Page: 1-B

OKLAHOMANS are less likely to be married and more likely to be divorced, according to the latest round of data released this week from Census 2000.

The proportion of never-married Oklahomans 15 and older jumped to 22.4 percent in 2000, up from 20.9 percent in 1990, the data shows.

In the same period:

The proportion of married Oklahomans fell to 57.3 percent, down from 59.3 percent.

The proportion of divorced Oklahomans rose to 11.6 percent, up from 10.1 percent.

Supporters of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative – a taxpayer-funded program designed to reduce the state’s divorce rate – said the statistics did not surprise them.

Rather, they said the information underscored previously released census figures that showed the number of Oklahomans living together outside marriage nearly doubled in 10 years – from 27,001 in 1990 to 53,307 in 2000.

Kent Choate, family ministries specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said he suspects many children of divorced parents are waiting longer to marry.

“In fact, many are going to the extent of living with one another prior to being married to ‘make sure,'” Choate wrote in an e-mail.

“Little do they know about the research… that indicates that those who live together before marriage have a higher rate of divorce than those who never lived together and get married.”

Donna Edwards, director of training and media for Scope Ministries International, counsels engaged and newly married couples.

Edwards said she has seen “a real increase” in the number of couples who live together outside marriage.

“The other surprising part is that they don’t try to hide it even at church,” Edwards said. “They don’t see anything wrong with it, even many who have grown up in church.”

The Rev. Michael McEwen, priest at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Oklahoma City, said many young people simply don’t see a need to marry until their late 20s at the earliest.

“I do tend to hear a lot about not wanting to have kids at a young age and then having a divorce break up the family,” said McEwen, whose marriage has lasted 34 years.

“But even people like my sons (ages 27 and 24) who come from very stable family histories where divorce is rare do not seem in any hurry to get married.

“They like girls and dating… but they see marriage as something for later.”

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