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A War on Divorce?

At a time when the state is bleeding cash and resources and facing record unemployment, seems at least one Michigan lawmaker is still finding the time to fan the flames of the pointless "culture wars" that political hacks turn to when they lack real answers to our real problems. State senator Michelle McManus, a Republican from Lake Leelanau, Mich., who's also running for Secretary of State, has introduced legislation designed to force more people to stay in broken marriages by eliminating Michigan's "no fault" divorce statute, which makes it easier for spouses to part.

Since 1972 Michigan's “no fault” divorce law has required only that one spouse say “there has been a breakdown of the marriage relationship to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.”Under the McManus bill those seeking divorce would be required to allege specific problems such as adultery, physical abuse, imprisonment, physical incompetence at time of marriage, or that a spouse had sex with an animal or dead human body.

The person accused of wrongdoing in the marriage would then have a chance to agree to the charges or deny them and a court would make a determination as to their validity.

Veronica LaDuke, spokeswoman for McManus, said that the Senator decided to introduce the bill because she was asked to do so by Mike McManus (no relation), president of the DC-area based Christian ministry called group Marriage Savers.

Ugh.

This is annoying on so many fronts. First off, yet again, we're forced to witness the scary implications of what happens when religious fundamentalists attempt to impose their brand of morality on the rest of us, via the law. (And here you thought it was just Detroit's stripper-scolding, fat cat "bishop-ocracy" that wants to play American Taliban.)

Secondly, even a cursory understanding of why the law was enacted in the first place tells you why it's a sensible idea. Before "no fault" divorce, people were often forced to air all of their dirty laundry in divorce court, generating even more hostility and animosity in the proceedings. And when there wasn't enough dirty laundry, people made stuff up, spinning fictional horror stories about abuse and infidelity just so they could get on with their lives.

And even when they couldn't get the divorce, people split anyway, creating all sorts of thorny entanglements around issues of child support and the division of property.

Finally, the state decided that it made more sense to just let consenting adults move on, without all the court-appointed drama.

But now Michelle and Mike McManus and their "pro-family" buddies are trying to drag us back 38 years in one fell swoop. Their reasons are, for the most part, the standard conservative cliches about any law or social program they hate, arguing that "no fault" divorces breed "irresponsibility." But they do manage to get at least a little more inventive this time around, contending that divorce is also an economic problem that has thrust Michigan into decline.

Though most people blame the sad state of Michigan's economy on the decline of the auto industry, McManus claims that the prevalence of divorce in Michigan is a major factor.

“Only married people can create new businesses. It takes one couple living under one roof to generate enough income to set off in business on your own.”

Plus, he said, because divorced women and their children are more likely to be poor, divorce results in increased need for Medicaid and housing subsidies.

And we all know how much many of our far-right Christian countrymen just love the idea of the government giving poor people anything.

Seriously, though, I'm not suggesting that marriage isn't important and that it doesn't take real work. As a married man, I know that when that work yields the dividends of a lasting bond, it can be beautiful for all involved. But the reality is that far too many marriages don't work, for any number of reasons. And in most instances, they aren't going to work just because some ministers who yield undue sway over narrow-minded politicians want that reality to be otherwise.

Moreover, at such a dire time for our state, I find it disheartening that the "culture warriors" are worming out of the woodwork again with these silly attempts to top each other -- and wedge voters -- with legislative kookiness. First it's this state rep Paul Scott, another GOP Secretary of State candidate (what is it with the SOS race anyway?), who has decided to make attacks on transgendered Michiganians central to his publicity machine. And now it's Michelle McManus and her bill kowtowing to these so-called "pro-family" mullahs.

Despite the solid track record that "culture warriors" have when it comes to dividing voters, I think these sort of efforts are likely too obvious and too nutty to work by themselves. But with the governor's race still taking shape, they signal a fundamental shift in the rhetoric we may be hearing in coming months. Sadly, at a time when we need leadership on both sides of the aisles willing to wage substantive battles on our behalf, it looks like we are destined to keep getting people who'd still rather take half-hearted stabs at windmills.

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