By FR. ROLANDO V. DELA ROSA, O.P.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus opposes those who favor, promote, or practice consensual uncoupling, legally sanctioned ghosting, mate dropping, and commitment busting, which traditionally is called divorce.
Divorce once carried with it an ugly social and moral stigma. But today, it has acquired an aura of respectability, thanks to its supporters and advocates who advertise it as a light in the dark tunnel of marital entrapment.
Our local legislators who are pushing for the legalization of divorce can learn from the former Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma. He launched the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI) in 1999, a government-funded movement devoted, among others, to the protection and revitalization of marriage.
Keating explained why he adopted this advocacy: “There is something wrong with a society where it is easier to get a marriage license than it is to get a fishing license, and where it is easier for a man or a woman to walk out of marriage than it is to get out of a Tupperware contract. We have to take significant steps to change our culture of divorce.”
The OMI developed a range of approaches and strategies to prepare people for marriage, and encourage distressed married couples to seek help before turning to divorce. To support this initiative, Keating set aside an initial 10 million dollars of state money.
Many objected to his advocacy: “What business does government have to get involved in safeguarding marriage?” Keating replied: “When you look at the consequence of broken families to society, the better question is: ‘What business does government NOT have getting involved?’”
The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative was bolstered by research. Keating asked economists from two Oklahoman universities to conduct research on marriage and its effect on the economy. The research showed that Oklahoma’s economy was hurt by its high rate of divorce.
During Keating’s incumbency, the OMI gained momentum and succeeded in shifting legal discourses away from divorce to the benefits of promoting stable marriages. Sadly, when Keating ended his term as governor in 2003, the OMI gradually lost steam and government support dwindled. Citing budget cuts, state officials in Oklahoma announced in 2016 that they would no longer provide funding for the OMI.
One reason why the OMI failed to achieve its goal is the fact the the religious and moral dimensions of marriage were obscured by motives that were decidedly utilitarian (improving the economy) and therapeutic (healthy relationships among couples). This is understandable because, as a government-funded initiative in a country where the separation of church and state is paramount, the OMI could not publicly address, much less eradicate, the main reason why marriages crumble.
The OMI has created many marriage therapy centers but even the best therapists admitted that they could only go so far. Therapy may cure the psychological trauma suffered by a couple, but not the spiritual damage inflicted on them by personal sin. Sin, even those committed routinely, and in secrecy, will have a ripple effect on marriage. Unless the couple, together, undergo conversion and mutual forgiveness, it would be very difficult for them to achieve lasting unity and peace.
The essence of sin is separation, a breaking away from a beloved. When sin reigns in a marriage, there is an experience of alienation and brokenness. Divorce is just the final expression of these.
Marriage needs healing. We often equate healing with the hurt, sickness, or pain of an individual. But marriages, like individuals, also need healing. When you throw a stone into a pool, the ripples continue long after the stone has reached the bottom. In like manner, the pain and hurt of the past, though perhaps cured at the level of the individual, continue to haunt a marriage, creating needless misunderstanding, anxiety and frustration.
Conscientious legislators in the country can replicate what Keating had done, and with the support of civil and religious sector, can avoid the pitfalls encountered by the OMI.