.- A Catholic mother and a law professor are proposing that couples entering a religious marriage sign a simple contract designed to give marriage safeguards that civil law no longer provides.
Marie "Bai" Macfarlane, 43, founded Mary's Advocates, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote the sanctity of marriage. She's also collaborating on the True Marriage Project, set up by Professor Stephen Safranek, a co-founder of the Ave Maria School of Law, reported The Anchor, the diocesan newspaper of Fall River, MA.
They're in touch with others in a growing national grassroots movement to reform no-fault divorce and rescue marriage from being "optional, disposable, and redefinable."
Safranak's True Marriage Project has designed to assist couples who want their religious vows legally protected. It offers a pre-nuptial contract - a Solemn Marriage Covenant Proclamation – that would ensure disputes would be managed by the Church or by mediators who share the Church's view’s on the Sanctity of marriage.
The couples agree to submit to the Church's teachings and canon law as the basis of their understanding of the legal duties and responsibilities in marriage.
Bai started in this new apostolate after being subjected to a divorce herself. She married William "Bud" Macfarlane Jr. in 1990. The couple had four sons whom she home-schooled as they grew. Bud left in 2003, then obtained a no-fault divorce and full child custody.
According to The Anchor, Safranak appealed Macfarlane's divorce case to the Ohio Supreme Court, asking that it recognize the religious nature of the marriage and its attendant rights and responsibilities.
Bai claimed she and her husband had bound themselves in a lifelong sacramental covenant and no civil judge could dissolve this. She claimed divorce was a violation of her religious freedom and asked that jurisdiction be transferred to an ecclesial court.
“The only reasons for licit separation according the terms of my marriage agreement would be if I was dangerous, had committed adultery, or was making it impossible for my family to practice their faith," Bai told The Anchor, referring to Church law. "Since I did none of those things, I can't be forcibly separated from my family."
According to Bai, the court punished her by giving Bud primary child custody because she refused to stop home-schooling (one of Bud's demands which was supported by a court ruling) and because she fought the divorce. In the custody case Bai was characterized as a "religious extremist."
In November, the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear her appeals case. She followed up, however, by submitting a canon law petition to the tribunals of the Diocese of Cleveland and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, asking them to investigate and to inform Bud that he should uphold the terms of their marriage since it had not been annulled.
When these tribunals declined to hear her petition, she appealed to the highest ecclesial court possible, the Roman Rota, where her petition is now pending.
Louisiana, Arizona, and Arkansas have passed statutes allowing for more committed marriages. In 1997, Louisiana passed a law allowing couples to enter into a "covenant marriage," which would bind the spouses legally and allow divorce only for "definite cause," such as adultery, a felony conviction and imprisonment, desertion for over a year, or abuse of the spouse or a child. Those who voluntarily enter into covenantal marriages must take marriage preparation courses and marriage counseling should problems arise.