Skirting the Issues: A Radical Idea

Ellen Krug. Photo by Mike Hnida
Ellen Krug. Photo by Mike Hnida

Well, Minnesota, it’s January.

That means the start of a new session of the Minnesota Legislature. Fair-minded and smart people control the House and Senate, not to mention that one such person also serves as our governor. We’re barely two months from defeating the anti-marriage amendment. The huge organizational apparatus which made that possible is still in relative existence.

In short, we’re in the right place for a call to arms. You know what I’m talking about: it’s time for gay marriage in our fair state. Let’s get a bill introduced, debated, and then voted on. We already know that the majority of Minnesotans support the idea of allowing two people who love each other to marry, regardless of their gender.

Give me a reason not to go forward. I dare you.

Wait. I have one more idea and this one’s far more radical: the new “Marriage for All” law should require that people applying for marriage licenses—gay and straight—first complete a non-religious marriage preparation course.

I can already hear the collective “Huh?”

Hear me out, please.

Everyone knows that close to half of all marriages end in divorce. Yet, no one seems to do anything about this abysmal success rate. It doesn’t take an advanced degree to understand that not every couple is well-suited to marriage. What if engaged couples received pre-marriage education about the realities of living with someone for the rest of one’s life? Almost everything has pros and cons associated with it; why should marriage be anything different? Would the added perspective of trained group leaders (optimally one or more married couples) be helpful to an engaged couple?

You bet it would. It’s always good to know what to expect before getting yourself into any long term situation. That’s doubly true for marriage, which in theory is a one way ticket.

I’m not speaking in a vacuum. As some readers know, when I lived as a man, I was married to a woman, my high school sweetheart actually, for twenty-two years. While we had some clue about what we were getting ourselves into, marriage proved to be far more formidable than either of us expected. Having the benefit of someone else’s nuanced perspective would have helped greatly.

I believed in the idea of pre-marriage preparation so much that my ex-wife and I conducted prep courses through our church. For much of our marriage, we spent four or five Saturday nights a year talking to groups of couples about the pluses and minuses of marriage. Our sessions didn’t involve religion; just practical advice.

We started every session with the question, “Tell us what you think will be the one best thing about being married, and the one worst thing.”

Invariably, the “best” would be “marrying my best friend.” Equally invariably, there were two “worsts:” “picking up his socks” and “not being able to hunt as often as I’d like.” I’m not kidding; these were the kinds of negatives we heard from nearly 1000 engaged couples over fifteen years.

One would think that people about to step into the life-changing act of marriage would give the downsides a bit more thought.

My ex and I would always press “the Five C’s” of making a good decision on marriage: character (does your fiancé act with moral and personal integrity?); communication (how do the two of you talk? Do you “fight fair,” making sure each has their say?); change (how do the two of you handle change?; neither of you will be the same people in twenty years); commitment (do both of you follow through on promises and oaths?) and the big one, courage (is your gut telling you this might not be right? Are you brave enough to say, “Wait; this commitment isn’t for me?”).

Certainly, I’m no expert on marriage: I married even though there was something inside me that questioned my true identity. Still, we passed the Five C’s; our marriage didn’t fall apart because we weren’t right for each other.

One more point: even if you disagree with my idea about a marriage preparation requirement, you’ve got to admit that it will make it the objectors (e.g. those “Vote Yes” people) stop and think. If they’re so intent on protecting marriage for straight people, then make sure the straights are truly ready to marry.

It’s guaranteed to confuse the hell out of them.


Ellie Krug welcomes your comments. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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