The state’s covenant marriage statute, which requires premarital counseling and makes it somewhat harder for couples to divorce, was popularized in 2005 by Gov. Mike Huckabee and his wife, Janet, whose Baptist vows apparently didn’t suffice. The first couple, after many years of marriage and three children, decided it would make their union stronger if they got remarried under a new secular law on stage at Verizon Arena, the first lady famously decked out in red velvet.
The Huckabees’ ceremony, attended by 8,000 people, evidently persuaded others to supplement their vows, since 2005 was the peak year in Arkansas for covenant marriage numbers, at 318. (The Huckabees were late out of the chute, reupping their nuptials four years after the 2001 enactment of the covenant law.) Since then, covenant marriages have fallen off, declining to their lowest number, 149, in 2010, according to statistics compiled by the state Health Department. (The state has not finished compiling data since 2010, spokesman Ed Barham said.)
Now comes the First Assembly of God in El Dorado, where, “in light of all that is going in our country over traditional marriage,” the church advisor writes, referring to the Supreme Court’s ruling largely overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, 12 couples decided to exchange their traditional marriage licenses for covenant licenses.
Pulaski County, the most populous, has issued the highest number of covenant licenses of any county in Arkansas for the 2002-2010 period. There were a total of 1,936 covenant licenses statewide, compared to 315,943 traditional over that time period. According to Barham, 42 counties on average over that time period have issued zero covenant licenses and an average of 16 counties had only one.
Here’s a closer look at covenant marriage licenses from the years 2002-2010: