Movement to Ban Divorce Grows in California

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Associated Press

Movement to Ban Divorce Grows in California

Man Petitioning for Ballot Initiative in Satirical Effort to Give Gay Marriage Foes their "Comeuppance"

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In this photo taken, Nov. 21, 2009, John Marcotte discusses his proposed ballot initiative to ban divorce as Cynthia Keagy, left, signs his petition to get measure on the ballot, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Til death do us part? The vow would really hold true in California if a Sacramento Web designer gets his way.

In a movement that seems ripped from the pages of Comedy Channel
writers, John Marcotte wants to put a measure on the ballot next year
to ban divorce in California.

The effort is meant to be a satirical statement after California
voters outlawed gay marriage in 2008, largely on the argument that a
ban is needed to protect the sanctity of traditional marriage. If
that's the case, then Marcotte reasons voters should have no problem
banning divorce.

"Since California has decided to protect traditional marriage, I
think it would be hypocritical of us not to sacrifice some of our own
rights to protect traditional marriage even more," the 38-year-old
married father of two said.

Marcotte said he has collected dozens of signatures, including one
from his wife of seven years. The initiative's Facebook fans have
swelled to more than 11,000. Volunteers that include gay activists and
members of a local comedy troupe have signed on to help.

Marcotte is looking into whether he can gather signatures online,
as proponents are doing for another proposed 2010 initiative to repeal
the gay marriage ban. But the odds are stacked against a campaign
funded primarily by the sale of $12 T-shirts featuring bride and groom
stick figures chained at the wrists.

Marcotte needs 694,354 valid signatures by March 22, a high hurdle
in a state where the typical petition drive costs millions of dollars.
Even if his proposed constitutional amendment made next year's ballot,
it's not clear how voters would react.

Nationwide, about half of all marriages end in divorce.

Not surprisingly, Marcotte's campaign to make divorce in California
illegal has divided those involved in last year's campaign for and
against Proposition 8.

As much as everyone would like to see fewer divorces, making it
illegal would be "impractical," said Ron Prentice, the executive
director of the California Family Council who led a coalition of
religious and conservative groups to qualify Proposition 8.

No other state bans divorce, and only a few countries, including
the Philippines and Malta, do. The Roman Catholic Church also prohibits
divorce but allows annulments. The California proposal would amend the
state constitution to eliminate the ability of married couples to get
divorced while allowing married couples to seek an annulment.

Prentice said proponents of traditional marriage only seek to strengthen the one man-one woman union.

"That's where our intention begins and ends," he said.

Jeffrey Taylor, a spokesman for Restore Equality 2010, a coalition
of same-sex marriage activists seeking to repeal Proposition 8, said
the coalition supports Marcotte's message but has no plans to join
forces with him.

"We find it quite hilarious," Taylor said of the initiative.

Marcotte, who runs the comedy site BadMouth.net in his spare time,
said he has received support from across the political spectrum. In
addition to encouragement from gay marriage advocates, he has been
interviewed by American Family Association, a Mississippi-based
organization that contributed to last year's Yes on 8 campaign.

He was mentioned by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC's "Countdown" during
his "World's Best Persons" segment for giving supporters of Proposition
8 their "comeuppance in California."

Marcotte, who is Catholic and voted against Proposition 8, views
himself as an accidental activist. A registered Democrat, he led a "ban
divorce" rally recently at the state Capitol in Sacramento to launch
his effort and was pleasantly surprised at the turnout. About 50 people
showed up, some holding signs that read, "You too can vote to take away
civil rights from someone."

Marcotte stopped dozens of people during another signature drive in
downtown Sacramento. Among them was Ryan Platt, 32, who said he signed
the petition in support of his lesbian sister, even though he thinks it
would be overturned if voters approved it.

"Even if by some miracle this did pass, it would never stand up to
the federal government," Platt said. "And if it did, there's something
really wrong with America."

Other petition signers said they were motivated by a sincere
interest to preserve marriages. One was Ervin Hulton, a 47-year-old
dishwasher who said he believes in making it harder for couples to
separate.

"The way I feel, why go out and spend all these tons of money for
marriage, the photography and all that? And along down the line, it's
going to shatter," said Hulton, who is single.

The U.S. divorce rate is 47.9 percent, according to data provided
by the National Center for Health Statistics reports. That figure,
however, does not include California, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana,
Louisiana and Minnesota because those six states no longer report their
divorce rates to the center.

California stopped because of budget problems, said Ralph Montano, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health.

While most people would not support banning divorce, it does make
sense for couples to be educated about the financial and emotional
commitments of marriage, said Dan Couvrette, chief executive and
publisher of Toronto-based Divorce Magazine. The publication has a
circulation of 140,000, including a regional edition in Southern
California.

"It's a worthwhile conversation to have," said Couvrette, who
started the magazine in 1996 after going through his own divorce. "I
don't think it's just a frivolous thought."

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