HNC Home Page
News Business Arts & Life Sports Opinion Calendar Archive About Us
DO THEY GET COLD FEET?: Ducks paddle upstream at Third Dam in Logan Canyon. / Photo by Mike Sweeney

Today's word on journalism

Friday, January 20, 2006

Variations on "truthiness":

"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please."

-- Mark Twain, author, newspaperman and humorist (1835-1910)

MENTORS WANTED: Media professionals in all fields wanted to serve as email mentors for journalism students. If interested, send email slugged "Mentors" to Ted Pease (

Pre-marital 'marriage education' should be mandatory in Utah

By Brooke Nelson

December 5, 2005 | Hair stylists, chefs and nail technicians are all required to have state licenses. Clients look for them to be displayed on the wall, or at the very least, tacked to the door or mirror to ensure those providing services have the proper training and education to be operating a business. These licenses are non-negotiable: no license, no business. No one questions the logic behind the requirements and no one would ever suggest that personal freedoms are being imposed on by these mandates.

Marriage licenses should require education, too. A person wanting to sell cupcakes or beef jerky out of their home must obtain permission from the state, but all anyone who wants to get married needs to provide is proof they are both over 18. In some states, you don't even need that. Surely, the intent to start a family should be taken as seriously by society as the intent to start a business.

I was a senior in high school and graduation was only a semester away. A few of us sat talking as we discussed our college application plans and where we expected to find each other in a few years. The subject of marriage came up, all of us acknowledging that if we followed the same timeline our parents had, each of us would be married at our five-year reunion. More than a couple in the group scoffed at the idea. That was a different time, they said, and getting married young hadn't done anyone in their lives any good.

One friend in particular seemed wary of the idea of ever committing to someone for that long at such a young age. "How can you know you love someone else when you don't even know who you are yet?" he asked. His parents, married in their late teens, had divorced and remarried at least once. The world created by young marriage in his life was one of chaos and confusion. "It's too easy to get a divorce," he went on to say. "Of course, maybe my parents shouldn't have been married in the first place." It was clear the emotional stress his parents had put him through could not be blamed on the ease of divorce in this country, but the lack of knowledge, of both marriage and each other, his parents went into their marriage with in the first place.

Things haven't changed much. In 2004, nearly one-fourth of all women in Utah who got married that year were 19 or younger.

It is true that the decision to get married is very different from deciding to cut hair or be a chef. These activities require state mandated training and education in order to protect public safety and health. Marriage on the other hand, it could be argued, is a purely personal affair, a decision that impacts private lives only and such mandation would be a serious violation of personal rights.

But marriage is not a purely personal matter. Divorce is costing the state of Utah $300 million a year, averaging $312 per household. Divorce costs the U.S. $3.3 billion a year. Public harm is being done, and mandating that proof of marriage education or counseling must be provided prior to any marriage license is issued is the solution.

This requirement is especially important in Utah where the average age of marriage is 3.5 years younger than the rest of the country. Marriage education (different than marriage counseling) has been proven to reduce the risk of divorce by 30 percent. Eighteen percent of divorces occur in the first two years of marriage and pre-marriage education can help newlyweds transition into their new responsibilities and expectations. These services can also help couples understand the obligation they are entering into during a time when they can still opt out.

Critics have argued that imposing such a measure is too drastic or extreme. Not all couples need such education to succeed, they say. But the current system isn't working. Ninety percent of USU graduates will get married, and 20 percent of them will be divorced within four years; everyone is paying.

The ills of society threatening families do not begin in the courtroom with a legal divorce. They begin long before when two people take on a commitment they are simply unprepared for.


Copyright 1997-2005 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-1000
Best viewed 800 x 600.