Metro Weekly

The Right Has a New Marriage Fight in Mind

The right-wing Heritage Foundation has set it sights on bringing down "no fault divorce," comparing it to marriage equality.

Photo: Tatiana Golmer/

Charade is an incredible movie. Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant in early 1960s Paris. A murder, a missing fortune, a cast of luminaries beyond Hepburn and Grant, and a soundtrack by Henry Mancini. It’s so good.

And that dialogue! Among the best lines comes from Hepburn’s Regina Lampert, complaining to friend Sylvie about the state of her lackluster marriage. Sylvie advises that this season’s fashions could help her meet — ahem — new “friends” to take her mind off her hollow marriage. Regina, an American transplant to France, responds, “I admit I came to Paris to escape ‘American provincial,’ but that doesn’t mean I’m ready for ‘French traditional.'” So good!

My father, also a transplant from the U.S. to France in the 1960s, was, unlike Regina, absolutely eager for French traditional. He explained this to my mother a few months after I was born, confessing to an ongoing affair that he did not intend to end. Mom didn’t want a divorce, but she did want out. That’s what she got, hauling me and my two older siblings to San Diego, where much of her side of the family lived.

Notably, in 1969, the year I was born, California became the first state to enact “no-fault divorce.” With this new law, it became much easier to end a marriage when just one spouse wanted out, which, in 1978, Dora finally wanted.

My own anniversary was last week. My husband and I mark our anniversary in two ways: the night we met 2001, and our legal marriage 10 years later. Flying back into Dulles after our Prague honeymoon, I followed the rules to a bureaucratic degree, moving into a separate passport-control line from my husband. While D.C. and some other states and countries recognized our marriage at the time, the federal government did not. I’ll always regret not getting in that line with my husband, and I’ll never take marriage equality for granted.

Today, the right has opened a new front, taking aim at no-fault divorce. The attack is framed as protecting children, the sanctity of marriage, or whatever. The speaker of the House, Mike Johnson (R-La.) is one of the country’s most prominent adherents of “covenant marriage,” recognized in Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Essentially, couples opting for such an arrangement are asking the government to create more restrictions to prevent them from divorcing. It’s easy to see the link between a “covenant marriage” mindset and attacking no-fault divorce. And attacking marriage equality.

The right-wing Heritage Foundation, infamous at the moment for its monstrously Machiavellian Project 2025 outline for removing the guardrails that kept Trump from taking us even deeper into the anti-democratic muck, should we be cursed with a second slog, is powerful.

Emma Waters, senior research associate in the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family at The Heritage Foundation, has a 2022 essay on their site knocking no-fault divorce, likening it to marriage equality.

“No-fault divorce stripped marriage of its durability and security,” she writes. “Instead, marriage lasts until feelings depart or spouses decide it’s no longer allowing them to ‘live their best life.’ … With the bearing of children divorced from marriage, it was a short step to same-sex marriage, an arrangement that deprives the couple’s child of having both a mother and a father. This victimizes the children.”

Won’t somebody please think of the children? (Yawn.) Honestly, I, at 8, was ecstatic when Mom told me of the divorce.

Though, while we’re worrying about the children, perhaps we should worry about those spouses trying to get out of a marriage that is loveless, or unhealthy, or abusive. There’s data in that regard I trust more than what Heritage is peddling.

Over at the National Bureau of Economic Research’s site, we can read the 2006 paper by economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers.

“In states that introduced unilateral divorce (no-fault divorce) we find an 8 to 16 percent decline in female suicide, roughly a 30 percent decline in domestic violence for both men and women, and a 10 percent decline in females murdered by their partners,” they write. So, not putting barriers in front of divorce makes it easier for abused spouses to escape? Funny how that works.

There are a few long-term, same-sex couples I know who are divorcing. I’m very sentimental, so these dissolutions, whatever the reason, sadden me. But making a bad situation worse by asking the government to step in and complicate divorce like in the good ol’ days strikes me as cruel.

Adults are entitled to make their own choices. They are also legally obligated to care for their children. No-fault divorce doesn’t conflict with either. What the right is cooking up does. It stands to reason that the decline in spousal abuse probably carried over into fewer beatings for children, too.

The American right obviously has no intention of slowing down. Please take them seriously, because you don’t want to live in the cage they’re busily building for the country. You want a covenant marriage? Super. Go nuts. But leave the rest of us out of your off-putting Christian-nationalist hoedown. You have no place, no authority, no excuse for trying to make decisions for the rest of us.

Will O’Bryan is a former Metro Weekly managing editor, living in D.C. with his husband. He is online at

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