The California Divorce Ban Initiative

Noticed in the Los Angeles Times that California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has authorized a divorce ban initiative to gather signatures to qualify for the 2010 ballot.  California is often regarded as the social laboratory for the rest of the country: movie star governors, the anti-tax revolt, a dysfunctional state government with a budget process teetering on bankruptcy,  pro- and anti-[insert hot button social issue here], and whatever else that can qualify for the ballot.   If California got something going, the rest of country will get it too like a bad case of swine flu.

Marriage used to be considered a serious commitment that wasn’t to be taken lightly since dissolving the marriage happened under three common scenarios: legally invalid (i.e., underage without parental consent), adultery, or death of a spouse.  If you made a bad decision when you got married, you had to live with the consequences of your actions.  Short of murder, faking your own death, or joining the French Foreign Legion, you were so out of luck.

Then the divorce laws were liberalized to include “no fault” or “irreconcilable differences,” and the divorce rate shoot up so that nearly half of all marriages ended up in divorce.  What used to be a shameful secret in society is now widely accepted. Celebrities getting married and divorced—sometimes in less than a day—is routine coverage for the paparazzi crowd.  The Republicans nomineeshad more divorces than the Democrats nominees in the 2008 presidential campaign.  With prenuptial agreements, you can even plan for a divorce if that should ever happen.

Now there is an initiative in California to change it back to the way it used to be.  Maybe this will be the initiative to force a change in the initative process.  Or maybe the status quo won’t change at all.

What’s even more interesting that no one else in the media had picked up on the story.  Probably because the initiative is in the signature gathering stage, and not all initiatives qualify for the ballot.   No sense for the media to focus on an initiative that might go nowhere.  But I’m fascinated by all the questions if the divorce ban is enacted into law and survives a constitutional court challenge.

Will people rush to get a divorce before the amendment was enacted the same way people declared bankruptcy before the new bankruptcy law in 2005 went into effect?

Will the legal profession try to challenge the constitutional amendment to protect their divorce and child support practices?

Will social and religious conservatives find themselves dancing around the issue because divorce rates are higher among the “family values” crowd?

Will the divorce ban apply to gay marriages (once all the legal challenges are cleared)?

Will the homicide rate among spouses increase dramatically?

Will Las Vegas become the key destination to get married and divorced?

Will people leave California to move to a state with liberal divorce laws?

Will the other states enact their own divorce bans?

Will this be the beginning of the end of an uncivil society?

Personally, I might put my signature down and even vote for this initiative.  Not because I have a strong position against divorce, either legally or morally.   But, like an anarchist holding Molotov cocktail at a store front, I want to see the impact of this initiative on society.  California can’t get any more screwed up than it is now—or can it?

FTC Disclosure: My parents were married for 47 years until breast cancer took my mother in 2004, although I might have benefited if their attempt for a divorce in the late 1970’s had actually succeeded.  I have no financial connections with the backers of this ballot initiative, and, beyond a possible signature and a vote, have no intention of actively supporting them otherwise.