How the GOP learned to hate divorce, again – LGBTQ Nation

Author: Katie Herchenroeder

In April of 2023,

His venting — which did not include the context of potential abuse he inflicted; a video from 2021 surfaced soon after Crowder’s podcast posted showing him restricting Hilary from access to a car because she would not do “wifely things” — was a watershed moment.

The right has long pushed policies to enshrine a specific view of marriage. But the open discussion of making divorce harder has — in large part because of dudes online with podcasts and politicians who want to appeal to dudes who listen to dudes on podcasts — become more obvious over the last year. Crowder’s rant was a crossover point in uncovering a renewed push by the GOP to roll back no-fault divorce laws. It gave more mainstream attention to a burgeoning men’s movement centered on family values.

“I think divorce should basically be outlawed, or it should be at least greatly restricted,” The Daily Wire host Michael Knowles said, while referencing Crowder. Podcaster Tim Pool said no-fault divorce is “ruining relationships,” on an episode where he cites Jordan Peterson and jokes that, “maybe we would just be better if, I don’t know, women just had to wear red dresses and bonnets.”  

Over the past year, I’ve been following this effort for Mother Jones. During that time, I have written about how conservatives, both elected and not, have been trying to make divorce harder. These arguments are often deeply influenced by religion and depend on misogynistic understandings of marriage, women, and money.

When I initially set up a Google Alert for “no-fault divorce” last summer, the news was pretty sparse. Now, I’m getting updates daily.  

Just as rolling back abortion rights was a concerted effort of religious groups, conservative provocateurs, and legislators, so is this anti-no-fault-divorce movement. The growing crowd of anti-woke Republicans, stewarded by men like Crowder, has taken up making divorce harder and turned it into a perfect recruiting tool to bring young misogynists into the fold. By pairing the moral panics about the changing norms of marriage and wokeness, with a hefty splash of masculinity-baiting, the GOP can appeal to some of the most conservative young male voters in generations.

Young women, according to research by Gallup, are becoming more liberal than previous generations. But young men have trended toward conservatism. This group of voters is increasingly available to, and coveted by, Republican candidates. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) released a book, Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs, to speak to them. Donald Trump Jr. launched a hunting magazine, Field Ethos, that, according to co-founder and CEO Jason Vincent appeals to the “unapologetic male mindset” (which is a draw for women, too, he told Politico). Tucker Carlson released a documentary called The End of Men.

Return, right-wing conservatives seem to say in these works, to the world before society decayed into the libidinous lawlessness of abortion and divorce. Be a good man—and enter a marriage. Have children. Provide for “the family.” This nostalgia is fundamentally wrapped up with a backslide on rights won by women since the mid-20th century.

Women are more likely to initiate divorces, and, historically, no-fault divorce has been specifically beneficial for wives seeking separation. A 2003 working paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research found that, in states that allowed one partner to unilaterally push for divorce, total female suicide declined by around 20 percent. There was no similar decline for men. Keeping divorce simpler also benefits those experiencing domestic abuse. Fault-based systems are costly and take more time—two resources that victims often lack.

This rhetorical push from the right is happening online and in homes across the country, but also in statehouses, and from the mouths of some of the most powerful people in politics. Just this week, the Texas GOP doubled down on their support for rolling back no-fault divorce in their official party platform. The Nebraska GOP’s website notes, “We believe no-fault divorce should be limited to situations in which the couple has no children of the marriage.”  

“For the sake of families,” Ben Carson, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and current Republican vice-presidential hopeful, wrote in his book, The Perilous Fight, released this month, “we should enact legislation to remove or radically reduce incidences of no-fault divorce.” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) has suggested he abides strictly to the “’til death do us part” view of divorce, even in unhappy or violent marriages. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has questioned no-fault divorce since he was a Harvard undergraduate in 1997. 

And of course, there’s current Speaker of the House Mike Johnson: one of the most prominent people in the country to get a “covenant marriage.”

In 1997, Louisiana — the Johnson’s home state — became the first in the country to pass a covenant marriage law, which allowed newlyweds to opt for a religion-based contract that makes it significantly harder to get divorced. Arizona and Arkansas followed. These unions provide an alternative to regular marriage certificates, which permit couples to get no-fault divorces.

If the Johnsons ever sought divorce, they would legally need to seek counseling first. Then, they would still only be able to separate if they proved one of the following requirements: adultery, “commission of a felony,” abandonment for one year, physical or sexual abuse of the spouse or of a child, or living apart for two years. 

Those seeking a no-fault divorce don’t have to do any of that—no wrongdoing needs to occur for couples to part ways. Starting in 1969, when then – California Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the country’s first no-fault divorce law, these statutes have provided a way out for couples wanting to go their separate ways. While Reagan, according to his son, would later consider supporting no-fault divorce his “greatest regret” in life, these laws have stuck around and helped change how we view divorce nationwide.   

In 2001, Johnson and his wife Kelly went on Good Morning America to talk about what made their nuptials special. Host Diane Sawyer was curious about this new thing called “covenant marriage,” and wanted to ask the Johnsons, who were one of the first couples to try it out, about the appeal.

“Critics of this again say, ‘you should be able to promise and mean it and not have to bring the law in,’” Sawyer said. “You’re letting states legislate something that is really a religious or a personal commitment.”  

“That’s true,” Johnson responds, “but I’m not sure why they oppose it. Because society, we have a vested interest in preserving marriages because all of the social ills that come from the root cause of divorce and the law, the state, is going to sanction some type of marriage, so why not have an option that’s more binding?” 

This is the regular argument of many on the right, that marriage should be held sacred in the law. What’s the harm in making divorce harder?

Hearing that, I can’t help but think of a woman I spoke with last fall.

Eleanor, who chose to conceal her name for safety, told me about one harm—how complicated it was, already, for her to leave her abusive partner and file successfully for divorce, and how much worse it would have been if she had to prove the abuse. A mother, Eleanor lives in Texas and while going through her divorce in 2020, was balancing keeping her and her children safe from her husband, who she says sexually assaulted and strangled her.

“I almost died,” Eleanor told me. “The notion that this could even be made any more difficult than it already is,” she explained of divorce, baffled and scared her.

This article first appeared on Mother Jones. It has been republished with the publication’s permission.

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Author: Katie Herchenroeder

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