Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-6c8bd87754-clkrv Total loading time: 0.33 Render date: 2022-01-18T15:10:09.749Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

5 - Covenant Marriage Laws

A Model for Compromise

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 November 2011

Joel A. Nichols
University of St Thomas, Minnesota
Get access


Three American states – Louisiana, Arizona, and Arkansas – statutorily authorize couples to enter into a “covenant marriage.” These covenant marriage statutes incorporate into law, in varying degrees, the understanding of traditional marriage as historically recognized in Western countries – a sexually monogamous union between one man and one woman intended to be for life. Further, covenant marriage attempts to lessen the problems of divorce by strengthening the institution of marriage. John Witte explains the logic well:

The Western tradition has learned, through centuries of experience, to balance the norms of marital formation, maintenance, and dissolution.… The lesson in this is that rules governing marriage formation and dissolution must be comparable in their stringency. … Loose formation rules demand loose dissolution rules, as we see today. To fix “the modern problem of divorce” will require reforms of rules at both ends of the marital process.

What is covenant marriage?

Covenant evokes a rich heritage both in the law, as a special form of contract with specific formalities and greater binding force, and in religion, as an unbreakable and perpetual agreement between the Creator and mankind. The word covenant added as an adjective preceding marriage carries with it that rich heritage from dual sources to imbue and renew our understanding of a very old, yet indispensable, social institution. As Max Stackhouse describes a covenant’s effect:

[t]he sociotheological idea of covenant is so rich with ethical content that it gives moral meaning to all it touches.… [A] covenant shifts the terms of … relationships. [A covenant] is not cut casually, for it entails not only celebration and sacrifice but also the incorporation of new shared duties and rights that nourish life with other meanings, and thus a sense that these duties and rights are based on an enduring law and purpose as established by a higher authority.

Marriage and Divorce in a Multi-Cultural Context
Multi-Tiered Marriage and the Boundaries of Civil Law and Religion
, pp. 120 - 137
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Witte, JohnFrom Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion and Law in the Western TraditionLouisvilleWestminster John Knox Press 1997Google Scholar
Witte, JohnNichols, Joel A.More Than a Mere Contract: Marriage as Contract and Covenant in Law and Theology,University of St. Thomas Law Journal 5 2008 595Google Scholar
Stackhouse, Max L.Covenant and Commitment: Faith, Family, and Economic LifeLouisvilleWestminster John Knox Press 1997Google Scholar
Spaht, Katherine ShawLouisiana’s Covenant Marriage: Social Analysis and Legal Implications,Louisiana Law Review 59 1998 63Google Scholar
Witte, JohnEllison, ElizaCovenant Marriage in Comparative PerspectiveGrand Rapids, MIEerdman’s 2005Google Scholar
Mazeaud, HenriLeçons de Droit Civil: La FamilleLevenuer, LaurentParis 1995Google Scholar
Wolfe, ChristopherThe Marriage of Your Choice,First Things 1995 37Google Scholar
Etzioni, AmitaiHow to Make Marriage MatterTime 1993 76Google Scholar
Etziani, AmitaiRubin, Peter 1997
Rasmussen, EricStake, Jeffery EvansLifting the Veil of Ignorance: Personalizing the Marriage Contract,Indiana Law Journal 73 1998 453Google Scholar
Spaht, Katherine ShawWhat’s Become of Louisiana’s Covenant Marriage Through the Eyes of Social Scientists,Loyola Law Review 47 2001 709Google Scholar
Nichols, Joel A.Louisiana Covenant Marriage Law: A First Step Toward a More Robust Pluralism in Marriage and Divorce Law?Emory Law Journal 47 1998 929Google Scholar
Spaht, Katherine ShawRevolution and Counter-Revolution: The Future of Marriage in the Law,Loyola Law Review 49 2003 1Google Scholar
Amato, Paul R.Rogers, Stacy J.Do Attitudes Toward Divorce Affect Marital Quality?Journal of Family Issues 20 1999 69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stake, Jeffery EvansPaternalism in the Law of Marriage,Indiana Law Journal 74 1999 801Google Scholar
Himmelfarb, GertrudeThe Panglosses of the Right Are WrongThe Wall Street Journal 1999Google Scholar
Spah, Katherine ShawSymeonides, SymeonCovenant Marriage and the Law of Conflict of Laws,Creighton Law Review 32 1999 1085Google Scholar
Hay, PeterThe American ‘Covenant MarriageCovenant Marriage in Comparative Perspective294
Nichols, Joel A.Multi-Tiered Marriage: Ideas and Influences from New York and Louisiana to the International CommunityVanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 40 2007 135Google Scholar
Schneider, Carl E.The Channelling Function in Family Law,Hofstra Law Review 20 1992 495Google Scholar
McClain, Linda C.Love, Marriage, and the Baby Carriage: Revisiting the Channelling Function of Family Law,Cardozo Law Review 28 2007 2133Google Scholar
Planiol, Marcel 1939
Blankenhorn, DavidThe Future of MarriageEncounter BooksNew York 2007Google Scholar
Drobac, Jennifer A.Page, AntonyA Uniform Domestic Partnership Act: Marrying Business Partnership and Family Law,Georgia Law Review 41 2007 349Google Scholar
Wilson, Robin FretwellEvaluating Marriage: Does Marriage Matter to the Nurturing of Children?San Diego Law Review 42 2005 847Google Scholar
Eichner, MaxineMarriage and the Elephant: The Liberal Democratic State’s Regulation of Intimate Relationships Between Adults,Harvard Journal of Law & Gender 30 2007 25Google Scholar
Nock, Steven L.Covenant Marriage: The Movement to Reclaim Tradition in AmericaNew Brunswick, NJRutgers University Press 2008Google Scholar
Reid, Charles J.And the State Makes Three: Should the State Retain a Role in Recognizing Marriage? 27 Cardozo Law Review 2006 1277Google Scholar
Spaht, Katherine ShawThe Last One Hundred Years: The Incredible Retreat of Law from the Regulation of Marriage,Louisiana Law Review 63 2003 243Google Scholar
Aycock, Jamie AlanContracting Out of the Culture Wars: How the Law Should Enforce and Communities of Faith Encourage More Enduring Marital Commitments,Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 30 2006 231Google Scholar

Send book to Kindle

To send this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Send book to Dropbox

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Available formats