Mother Jones; Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Zuma, Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Zuma (3), Bob Daemmrich/Zuma
In 1969, then California Governor Ronald Reagan signed the first no-fault divorce law into existence, allowing couples to legally separate without having to prove wrongdoing by one party. It soon rippled out throughout the country. The change had immense benefits for women; it bolstered economic independence and provided a safer route for domestic violence survivors. States that allowed one partner to solely push for divorce saw about a 20 percent decline in female suicide, per a 2003 working paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research.
This blip in Reagan’s legacy stands in stark contrast to his resounding rhetoric around family values. (Reagan, according to his son, would later call backing no-fault divorce his “greatest regret” in life.”) In the 1970s, the right took a cultural turn—emphasizing domestic strength through “the family.” It was a politics that smeared efforts by women, queer communities, and other groups to obtain equal rights and representation as decadent degradation of the status quo. Abortion and gay marriage were among the myriad of issues the right fretted meant the death of the nuclear family and, in turn, the strength of America. While these fights didn’t disappear, they ebbed throughout the beginning of the 21st century. Yet, recently, as we’ve seen with increased attacks on reproductive justice and LGBTQ health and safety, conservatives are legislating and discussing them with renewed fervor.
As part of this push, Republican politicians across the country have been revitalizing the desire to roll back no-fault divorce—couching it in faith, and patriotism. This fight spans from provocateur
–podcasters like Steven Crowder to the official GOP platforms in both Texas and Nebraska. Some politicians are all in—ready to scapegoat no-fault divorce for the ails of our society—while others are beginning to flirt with the idea.
Here is an evolving list of some of the current and hopeful elected officials who have a lot of thoughts about who should be able to get divorced, and how.
Did we miss a politician who has publicly called for the end of no-fault divorce? Email and let us know.
Upon winning Oklahoma’s Senate District 32 special primary election in October, Dusty Deevers rejoiced: “The spirit of 1776 is alive and well in Southwest Oklahoma!” Deevers, a far-right Christian pastor, has said he wants “morality brought back into government.” In an appearance on “The Sword and The Trowel,” a podcast by the Southern Baptist group Founders Ministries, Deevers shared his vision for Oklahoma and the country.
“I want to see pornography abolished. I want to see no-fault divorce, come back to at-fault in divorce—and even public shaming for those who are at fault in divorce. I want to see abortion abolished. These are the kinds of morality and government issues that we need to get back to.”
For Matt Krause, trying to roll back no-fault divorce isn’t new. In 2016, the then-Texas lawmaker proposed a bill that would have required couples to cite a specific reason for why their marriage needed to end. At the time, he said that he wanted to “promote and encourage strong Texas families,” and that meant ensuring marriage wasn’t something to “get in or out of easily or quickly.”
Now, he’s running for Tarrant County Commissioner in Fort Worth.
Seven years ago, at the end of 2016, Krause took to Twitter to share news about his proposal to end no-fault divorce. “I am your constituent,” an account responded, “I am opposed to this bill. No-fault divorce is a very important right for both men and women.”
“Marriage,” Krause replied, “as recognized by the US Sup Ct, is a fundamental right. No-fault divorce is not. We’ll have to agree to disagree here.”
Vivek Ramaswamy is a Republican presidential candidate, multimillionaire, former biotech executive, and author of Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam. Recently, he has been toying with the idea of ending no-fault divorce. On a recent episode of the podcast he hosts, entitled “The Assault on Family: How Society is Losing its Most Important Institution,” Ramaswamy sat down with Terry Schilling from the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank.
“Part of the reason it feels like we’re lost in the desert in America today is that we’ve not only lost our sense of nation,” Ramaswamy explained, “we’ve also lost our sense that the family is itself a grounding institution, one that matters, one that is worth preserving.”
Schilling responded: “The reason we see so much dysfunction across our society today is because we’ve had decades long of a regime of no-fault divorce.”
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson is probably the most well-known elected official who has discussed weakening no-fault divorce laws, and he’s been talking about it for decades.
Johnson and his wife Kelly were one of the first couples in Louisiana to opt for a covenant marriage, a religion-based contract that makes it significantly harder to get divorced. During his time volunteering at the Louisiana Family Forum, Johnson helped craft the covenant marriage bill. Louisiana is one of just three states—Arizona and Arkansas are the other two—which give couples the option to choose a covenant marriage. Largely, these marriages have been unpopular. Between 2000 and 2010, just about 1 percent of couples in Louisiana chose a covenant marriage. A fact that Johnson has chalked up to covenant marriages being “just unknown.”
“In my generation, all we’ve ever known is the no-fault scheme, and any deviation from that seems like a radical move,” Johnson said in 2001.
In a 2016 sermon, Johnson, in part, blamed no-fault laws—in addition to things like abortion access expanding—for our “completely amoral society” that causes young people to go “into their schoolhouse and open fire on their classmates.”
While Vance has not introduced legislation to end no-fault divorce, he has discussed the cultural rot of divorce. Before he was elected as a senator in Ohio, Vance shared some of his thoughts on marriage to a California high school in a video obtained by Vice News:
This is one of the great tricks that I think the sexual revolution pulled on the American populace, which is the idea that, like, ‘Well, OK. These marriages were fundamentally … they were maybe even violent, but, certainly, they were unhappy, and, so, getting rid of them and making it easier for people to shift spouses like they change their underwear—that’s going to make people happier in the long-term….And maybe it worked out for the Moms and Dads, though I’m skeptical. But it really didn’t work out for the kids of those marriages.
Vance, who authored Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, then continued his implication that those experiencing domestic violence in marriages should consider sticking it out, for the sake of the kids, citing how his grandparents came together, despite the violence in their relationship, to raise him.
“My grandparents had an incredibly chaotic marriage in a lot of ways, but they never got divorced, right? They were together to the end, ’til death do us part. That was a really important thing to my grandmother and my grandfather. That was clearly not true by the 70s or 80s,” he said.
According to South Dakota’s branch of the ACLU, state representative Tony Randolph has introduced a bill to remove irreconcilable differences as grounds for divorce each year since 2020. Around 97 percent of divorcing couples in South Dakota cite irreconcilable differences in their separation.
“Under the proposed law,” Stanton Anker, a Rapid City-based attorney explained, “a woman abused by her husband would have to face him in court, and a controlling husband could force his wife to stay in the marriage unless she abandoned it or faced going to court to prove that he had done something wrong.”
Cotton legislates in one of the three states with covenant marriage as an option and, like his congressional colleague Mike Johnson, has railed against no-fault divorce in his past. In fact, he wrote about it as a Harvard undergrad.
In a 1997 article in The Harvard Crimson, Cotton praises covenant marriages and blames feminists for lax divorce laws. “Men are simple creatures. It doesn’t take much to please us. The problem is women,” he wrote in the first sentence.
Cotton then explains how he polled women on their greatest fears, to which he claims they answered a man leaving them. “Feminists say no fault divorce was a large hurdle on the path to female liberation. They apparently don’t consult the deepest hopes or greatest fears of young women,” Cotton wrote.
The article is an intimate look into the type of ideology that exists behind the shouts to keep marriage sacred—misogyny lightly veiled behind religion and nationalism.
“Talk to a psychologist, a sociobiologist or a mother and you learn that men are naturally restless and rowdy, maybe even a little incorrigible,” Cotton explained. “Throughout time, though, women and social institutions have conspired to break man’s unruliness. In the past few decades, however, they have largely abandoned that noble and necessary project.”