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July 1, 2000
Column #983

(Second in a series of three columns on marriage)

A NEW "MARRIAGE MOVEMENT"

     DENVER - A new ''marriage movement'' surfaced in America last week. 

     Along with 100 religious, academic, political and civic leaders, I signed ''The Marriage Movement: a Statement of Principles.'' What follows are excerpts of our 23-page statement edited by Maggie Gallagher of the Institute for American Values.

     ''We come together because the divorce revolution has failed. When marriages fail, children suffer. For many the suffering continues for years. For some it never ends. Nor has the divorce revolution reliably delivered on its promise to adults of greater personal happiness. Remarriages are no happier than first marriages, and are even more divorce-prone. Despite the tripling of divorces since 1960, the percent of persons in intact and happy marriages has declined.

     ''We come together because the unwed-childbearing revolution has failed. It has not led to greater equality for women, but to the feminization of parenting and poverty.

     ''Marriage is a universal human institution, the way in which every known society conspires to obtain for each child the love, attention and resources of a mother and father. 

     ''We come together to pledge that in this decade we will turn the tide on marriage, reducing divorce and unmarried childbearing. 

     ''Is renewing a marriage culture a reasonable goal? We think so. High rates of divorce and unwed childbearing, some distinguished voices tell us, are irreversible trends. We respectfully but firmly disagree. The history of American progress is the history of confronting entrenched social problems once considered inevitable. Slavery, racism, poverty, pollution, drunk driving, sexism, tobacco use - in each case, Americans proved that when a social practice, big or small is wrong, or destructive, the correct response is not fatalistic acceptance, but action.

     ''Strengthening marriage is a legitimate public goal. It protects the well-being of children. Divorce and unwed parenting generate large taxpayer costs. Marriage is a unique generator of social and human capital, as important as education in building wealth. Married adults live longer, healthier, happier and more affluent lives than adults who don't marry or stay married.

     ''A marriage movement is visibly emerging; a diverse and growing group of leaders are organizing new initiatives to strengthen marriage. The Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education (founded by Diane Sollee), brought together 600 leaders for a Smart Marriages conference in 1997, grew to 1,200 in 1999 and created a clearinghouse for the media plus activists in religious, scholarly and public policy sectors'' (http://www.smartmarriages.com).

     The paper also cited the ''growth of Marriage Savers,'' a ministry begun by my wife and me ''that has helped 5,500 clergy in 125 cities organize Community Marriage Policies and Covenants. For these programs, clergy agree to require engaged couples to undergo four months of marriage preparation, encourage marriage enrichment and intervention programs such as Marriage Encounter, Family Life or Retrouvaille, create stepfamily support groups, and train lay mentor couples to help engaged couples, newlyweds and troubled marriages.''

     ''In 1998, Florida became the first state to mandate marriage and relationship skills in all public and private high schools. In 1997, Louisiana became the first state, and in 1998, Arizona the second, to pass covenant marriage laws, which give couples the option of avoiding no-fault divorce laws, or unilateral divorce, responsible for 17 percent of the overall increase of divorce.

     ''In 1999, governors in two states - Arkansas and Oklahoma - publicly made 30 to 50 percent reductions in the divorce rate an important goal of their administrations. Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating announced an innovative $10 million marriage initiative, financed by using 10 percent of the state's unspent welfare funds. It will organize Community Marriage Covenants, a statewide service delivery system for marriage skills training and a public information campaign....

     ''We offer these concrete suggestions as starting points:

''To married couples: If your marriage has recovered from serious troubles, consider volunteering at (or starting) a marriage mentoring program at your local church or synagogue to help turn around other marriages.

''To parents: Make raising children who succeed in marriage at least as important a goal as raising children who succeed in careers. Parents who want their children to marry before having children and who prefer marriage to cohabitation, should explicitly communicate this message.

''To clergy: Develop lay marriage mentoring ministries to help engaged, newlywed and troubled couples. Lay mentor couples can play a role that no professional can. Alcoholics Anonymous is...more successful than highly trained professionals in getting alcoholics sober, because people who have been there can provide daily support, skills, tips, and inspiration.

''To governments: Promote marriage as an explicit goal of domestic policy. Use unspent welfare (TANF) funds to fund marriage supportive activities; reconsider no-fault divorce laws and give legal weight to marriage vows: 18 months for a contested divorces to allow reconciliation.

''We seek nothing less than to rebuild the shattered dream of lasting love and to pass on a healthier, happier and more successful marriage culture to the next generation. Toward this end, we pledge our time, our resources and our intellectual and moral energy.''

     For a copy, or to join the list of signatories, see http://www.marriagemovement.org.

  Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.

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