The fact checkers:
Aaron Sharockman: writer, researcher
John Bartosek: editor
Watch it while you can. I'm not sure how long the Grayson campaign will stick with it.
In this item, we wanted to examine two other sweeping allegations in the ad -- that Webster wants to make divorce illegal and that he tried to deny battered women the right to divorce their abusers.Though Bartosek wrote to me stating that PolitiFact tries to stick to a single issue, it seems fair to keep these two linked since they stem from the same proposed legislation, House Bill 1585, a state bill that would have made Florida the first state to provide for covenant marriage.
As for the underlying argument, which sometimes attracts PolitiFact's attention and sometimes does not, the Grayson ad makes that pretty clear: "Daniel Webster wants to impose his radical fundamentalism on us."
PolitiFact found that Grayson's ad cited the wrong bill, and the story does an adequate job of explaining covenant marriage.
Then author Jacobson analyzed portions of the bill:
The covenant marriage agreement "may not be dissolved except by reason of adultery," according to the bill Webster filed.And:
The bill includes no mention of physical abuse.And:
It also discusses alimony, noting that "no alimony shall be granted to an adulterous wife," but makes no mention about the alimony rights of an adulterous man.The bill makes no mention of alimony rights for any man, including an adulterous one. It does, however, provide for alimony where the woman's "potential earning capacity would cause a reduction in her standard of living." Jacobson's account feeds into Grayson's narrative to some extent by omitting the advantage a woman might enjoy under the bill while emphasizing the disadvantage with respect to effects of adultery.
After including some additional information about covenant marriage statistics in other states and related commentary from some expert sources, Jacobson provides a pair of summary paragraphs.
When Webster was a member of the Florida House, he introduced a bill that would have created something called covenant marriage. This special form of marriage was entirely voluntary, but if couples agreed to it, they would not be able to divorce under state law except in the case of adultery. The bill did not list physical or sexual abuse as grounds for divorce.Is that "wanting to make divorce illegal"? Only if the covenant marriage bill eliminated the other statutory provision for marriage and we ignore entirely the allowance for divorce because of adultery. Grayson's failure to qualify the statement as applying only to covenant marriage leads the viewer to understand that divorce would not be an option at all under Webster's proposal.
Webster's bill wouldn't make all divorce illegal. It wouldn't even make divorce for all people who chose covenant marriage entirely illegal. There's a small window out for adultery. But Grayson is right that there was no protection in Webster's marriage bill for abused wives. So, in theory, someone who chose covenant marriage and was being abused might not be granted a divorce. Because all of that context is critical to understanding Grayson's claim, we rate it Half True.Sacrebleu.
If statistics on covenant marriage from other states serve as any sort of guide, Webster's bill would have removed most existing statutory justifications for divorce from a distinct minority of all marriages.
Grayson is not right that there is no protection in Webster's marriage bill for abused wives, not that Grayson made any such specific statement. The protections occur at the front end via requirements for parental consent, premarital counseling with emphasis on the serious nature of the covenant marriage commitment and written acknowledgment from the parties that they understand that seriousness.
Note that PolitiFact ends up giving Grayson a "Half True" because the context is "critical to understanding Grayson's claim."
Time for yet another review of PolitiFact's description of its grading system:
Half True – The statement is accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context."Webster wants to make divorce illegal": Accurate but leaves out important details?
Webster "tried to deny battered women the right to divorce their abusers": Accurate but leaves out important details?
Barely True – The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.Isn't that more like it? Like the "different impression" that the proposed changes would be be voluntary and apply only to the covenant marriage arrangement? Like the "different impression" that the bill did not mention battered women at all?
And how about that underlying argument? Is a voluntary covenant marriage provision an effective way to force one's radical fundamentalist views on people?
Aaron Sharockman: F
John Bartosek: F
Sharockman and Bartosek appeared to ignore their own findings while assigning the Truth-O-Meter rating. Ignoring the underlying argument also served to boost Grayson's rating. The underlying argument was ridiculous given the supposed evidence in support. "Half True" was very generous.
States (perhaps all of them) do have restrictions on divorce aside from those on covenant marriage, though with the caveat that "irreconcilable differences" may encompass virtually anything. You can't divorce over smelly feet, for example, unless you classify it as an irreconcilable difference or the like. And it may depend on the judge as to whether that would fly. Point being, if allowing divorce only in cases of adultery counts as making divorce illegal then divorce is already technically illegal. The difference is the number of exceptions, which is admittedly far more restrictive for a covenant marriage.
I should also mention that it is plausible that Webster might have welcomed changes to his proposed bill, including allowances for men to receive alimony and for battered women to have recourse to a divorce.