By JAY HOWSER
In an attempt to curb rising divorce rates, Gov. Michael Leavitt has chosen BYU professor Brent Barlow to chair the recently formed Governor’s Commission on Marriage.
Barlow is the director of the Marriage Resource Center at BYU and founder of Marriage Advocates of America.
The commission he will head is the first of its kind in the nation.
“The purpose of the commission is to promote and strengthen marriage and increase awareness of its importance,” Barlow said.
“There is a national movement right now to put marriage back on the public agenda. Everybody wants to talk about families, but a lot of people are hesitant to talk about marriage,” he said.
Barlow’s commission will serve an advisory role, not a policy-making role, he said.
The commission will report the results of research on marriage to an organization called the Governor’s Initiative on Families Today. GIFT will then report these findings to the governor who will implement policy, Barlow said.
Other members of the nine-person commission include Veola Burchett, family life director of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City; Carole Mikita, KSL-TV news anchor and reporter; Pauline Richards, former instructor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah; and Mary Ellen Smoot, General President of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
To lead such people is a wonderful opportunity for Barlow, said Alan Hawkins, director of the Center for Studies of the Family at BYU.
“It’s absolutely fantastic. It’s a great honor for Brent as well as our center and BYU,” Hawkins said. “Dr. Barlow has been involved with these issues for many years. This is something that he has earned.”
“Dr. Barlow is nationally respected for his research on marriage and its importance to the strength of our society,” said Utah’s First Lady Jacalyn S. Leavitt. “As the director of Marriage Advocates of America, he was a natural choice to chair this initiative.”
Some other states have recently taken important measures to promote marriage, Barlow said.
In the state of Washington, 450 ministers have formed the Marriage Savers program, a four-month marriage preparation program. There also exists in that state a marriage mentor program for those in their first year of marriage, Barlow said.
Florida recently passed a law requiring all high school students to take courses on marriage, he said.
Legislation has been passed in both Louisiana and Arizona to allow covenant marriages to commence. Hawkins said these are marriages in which the state plays a larger role to prepare the couple for their life together. The grounds for divorce are also more limited by the state.
“There are a lot of hoops to jump through to get into them and to get out,” he said. “It is hoped that couples with covenant marriages will understand that marriage is a life-long commitment.”
With all these legislative changes other states are making, however, no other state had formed a commission which reports directly to the governor.
“It speaks very well on the governor and the state of Utah for being the first to act on this issue,” Hawkins said.