In the late 1990s, Oklahoma undertook an innovative strategy to strengthen families by reducing its divorce and nonmarital childbearing rates.В With leadership and commitment from the highest levels, the state set out to build public support and develop a sustainable multisector initiative through a public-private collaboration.В Since then, the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI) has focused on building statewide capacity to deliver instruction in marriage and relationship skillsВ an approach that has stimulated public awareness and dialogue about the effects of marriage and divorce.
Recognizing the consequences of its high rates of divorce and nonmarital childbearing, the State of Oklahoma, through its highest policy levelВ the Office of the GovernorВ made a major commitment in 1999 to create what is now known as the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI). This pioneering effort came before the current national and local activities to support healthy marriage that were stimulated by the federal administrations 2001 announcement of a Healthy Marriage InitiativeВ making the OMI the longest operating marriage initiative in the U.S.
Besides having the longest history, the OMI is also the countrys only statewide initiative. It aims to provide access to marriage support services in every county of the state and to Oklahomans from all walks of life. Oklahoma reports that an estimated 100,000 people have completed at least 12 hours of marriage education since October 2001. As this brief describes, the OMI expects that its strategy will lead to specific behavior change at the individual levelВ for example, by helping distressed married couples address their issues and avoid divorce, and by preparing engaged couples for marriage. Just as importantly, the OMI expects that as these services become more and more widely available, known, and used, changes in norms and attitudes about marriage will come about at the broad community level, restoring support for the institution of marriage as a valued social good.