by Teresa Harke
Several years ago I was asked by OPB to discuss the subject of cohabitation as it related to Governor Kitzhaber and First Lady Cylvia Hayes. Many Oregonians were uncomfortable with the idea of the Governor’s girlfriend being able to take the position of First Lady. One legislator confided in me her worry that the Governor’s relationship was sending the wrong message to young people about marriage and commitment.
Well I agree.
Yesterday their relationship was rocked with scandal when Governor Kitzhaber’s now fiancé Hayes announced that she did in fact enter into a felony green card marriage 17 years ago. It also revealed that she has been married three times now, and is engaged for her fourth. She was visibly upset as she confessed to an illegal marriage, one she said she was “embarrassed” and “ashamed” of. While it is clear that Ms. Hayes regrets the marriage now, it further reveals a troubling and disturbing attitude toward marriage.
Society benefits when marriages are strong. Civic leaders should be applauding and promoting healthy marital relationships. Kitzhaber and Hayes have 5 divorces between them, including what is now known to be a fraudulent marriage. In their own relationship, they have delayed getting engaged for more than 10 years. These choices show an alarming attitude toward marriage as something cheap and unnecessary, not the committed and valuable lifelong union that it is.
While they are not solely responsible for this kind of attitude toward marriage, they are contributing to the problem. They are sending the wrong message to all Oregonians about love and commitment. Studies report that most young people want to get married, and despite the divorce rumors; 70% of first marriages last. The value of marriage cannot be understated, and its benefits are numerous.
Married couples are physically and psychologically healthier, report greater sexual satisfaction, are more likely to volunteer, are less likely to be depressed or have problems with alcohol, make more money and are less likely to live in poverty, will live longer, and create the most ideal environment to raise children. There is nothing else that combats societal ills quite like a healthy marriage.
As an Oregonian and young married woman, I hope to see better role models in the future for marriage and commitment in our civic leaders and I hope that as the Governor and First Lady reflect on this revelation they come to see damage they have caused.
Teresa Harke is the Communications Director for the Oregon Family Council, and she will celebrate her third wedding anniversary this month. She and her husband are expecting their first child in November.