SACRAMENTO, California – Until death do us part? The vow would really hold true in California if a Web designer should get his way.
In a movement that seems ripped from the pages of writers for the movie farces that this state has produced, John Marcotte wants to put a measure on the ballot next year to ban divorce in California.
The effort is meant to be a satirical statement after California voters outlawed gay marriage in 2008 largely on the argument that a ban is needed to protect the sanctity of traditional marriage. If that be the case, then, Marcotte reasons, voters should have no problem banning divorce.
"Since California has decided to protect traditional marriage, I think it would be hypocritical of us not to sacrifice some of our own rights to protect traditional marriage even more," the 38-year-old married father of two said.
Marcotte said he has collected dozens of signatures, including one from his wife of seven years. The initiative's Facebook fans have swelled to more than 1,100. Volunteers that include gay activists and members of a local comedy troupe have signed on to help.
Marcotte is looking into whether he can gather signatures online, as proponents are doing for another proposed 2010 initiative to repeal the gay marriage ban. But the odds are stacked against a campaign funded primarily by the sale of $12 T-shirts featuring bride and groom stick figures chained at the wrists.
Marcotte needs 694,354 valid signatures by March 22, a high hurdle in a state where the typical petition drive costs millions of dollars. Even if his proposed constitutional amendment were to make next year's ballot, it is unclear how voters would react.
Across the United States, about half of all marriages end in divorce. Divorces in California's Hollywood movie headquarters have provided fodder for tabloid newspapers for decades.
Not surprisingly, Marcotte's campaign to make divorce in California illegal has divided those involved in last year's campaign for and against the measure to ban same-sex marriage, known as Proposition 8.
As much as everyone would like to see fewer divorces, making it illegal would be "impractical," said Ron Prentice, executive director of the California Family Council, who led a coalition of religious and conservative groups to qualify Proposition 8.
No other state bans divorce, and only a few countries, including the Philippines and Malta, do. The Roman Catholic Church also prohibits divorce but allows annulments. The California proposal would amend the state constitution to eliminate the ability of married couples to get divorced while allowing married couples to seek annulment of their vows.
Prentice said proponents of traditional marriage seek only to strengthen the one man-one woman union.
"That's where our intention begins and ends," he said.
Jeffrey Taylor, a spokesman for Restore Equality 2010, a coalition of same-sex marriage activists seeking to repeal Proposition 8, said the coalition supports Marcotte's message but has no plans to join forces with him.
"We find it quite hilarious," Taylor said of the initiative.
Marcotte, who runs the comedy site BadMouth.net in his spare time, said he has received support from across the political spectrum. In addition to encouragement from gay marriage advocates, he has been interviewed by American Family Association, a Mississippi-based organization that contributed to last year's Yes on 8 campaign.
He was mentioned by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC's "Countdown" during his "World's Best Persons" segment for giving supporters of Proposition 8 their "comeuppance in California."
Marcotte, who is Catholic and voted against Proposition 8, views himself as an accidental activist. A registered Democrat, he led a "ban divorce" rally recently at the state Capitol in Sacramento to launch his effort and was pleasantly surprised at the turnout. About 50 people showed up, some holding signs that read, "You too can vote to take away civil rights from someone."
The U.S. divorce rate is 47.9 percent, according to data provided by the National Center for Health Statistics. That figure, however, does not include California, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana and Minnesota because those six states no longer report their divorce rates to the center.
California stopped because of budget problems, said Ralph Montano, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health.
While most people would not support banning divorce, it does make sense for couples to be educated about the financial and emotional commitments of marriage, said Dan Couvrette, chief executive and publisher of Toronto-based Divorce Magazine. The publication has a circulation of 140,000, including a regional edition in Southern California.
"It's a worthwhile conversation to have," said Couvrette, who started the magazine in 1996 after going through his own divorce. "I don't think it's just a frivolous thought."