SB54: Bill encouraging premarital counseling passes in committee

Former Utah first lady Jackie Leavitt testifies in support of SB54 alongside Sen. Allen M. Christensen, R-North Ogden. The bill, which passed unanimously in committee, would give a $20 discount on marriage licenses for couples who take premarital classes or counseling. (Jenna Alton)

SALT LAKE CITY—SB54, which would offer a discount on marital licenses for engaged couples that take marital preparation classes or counseling, passed unanimously in the Senate Business and Labor Standing Committee Feb. 1.

According to the Utah County Clerk/Auditor, marriage licenses in Utah county currently cost $40. If the bill passes, couples who take premarital classes or counseling would receive a $20 discount.

Alan Hawkins, BYU professor of family life and co-chair of the Utah Marriage Commission, testified in support of the bill.

“A society with strong marriages and stable families is a society with less need for government intrusion and programs,” Hawkins said.

Under the bill, premarital preparation classes or counseling includes lectures, classes, seminars and workshops by an individual that meets outlined requirements. The preparation could be either religious or secular.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Allen M. Christensen, R-North Ogden, said the bill would pay for itself by reducing divorce rates in Utah.

“With social issues, one of the most expensive things that we have to deal with is broken families, and the results of broken families,” Christensen said.

Divorce costs taxpayers in Utah $276 million each year, according to a study by the Sutherland Institute.

Former Utah first lady Jackie Leavitt attended the meeting to support the bill. Although Leavitt did not originally plan to testify, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, chair of the committee, invited her to speak.

Leavitt acknowledged financial benefits of the bill to the state, but also cited other reasons for her support.

“On the side of personal benefit, you can’t put a price on that,” Leavitt said. “We need to have our marriages as strong as possible.”

BYU family life students Jarna Knuteson, Jyllian Sanchez and Megan Griffes talk while waiting for the Senate Business and Labor Standing Committee meeting to begin. All came in support of SB54. (Jenna Alton)

The bill faced some opposition. Joni Beals, Grassroots Director of the Utah chapter of Americans for Prosperity, said she fears the increased time and burden on engaged couples would discourage marriage in Utah.

“Marriage is too important to leave to government,” Beals said. “While we want to support a family culture, governments imposing extra additional fees may not get the results that you want.”

Shortly before the passage of the bill, several senators, including Bramble, said they did not support the bill last year, but have since changed their minds.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to do all we can to try to strengthen marriages and families,” Bramble said.

Three BYU family life major students attended the meeting to support SB54. The students said they will create a petition and advocate on social media to support the bill in the following weeks.

“Anytime we can be involved in change for the better, especially in relation to the family, we should be a part of it,” said BYU student Jarna Knuteson. “As I student, I do my best to be involved as much as I can.”

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