MAKING MARRIAGE A POLITICAL ISSUE
Can marriage be made a political issue? A new
group, the Alliance for Marriage, hopes so.
It commissioned a ''Wirthlin National Marriage
Poll'' which found a large majority of Americans agree that the health
of marriage and families should be the top priority for political
leaders in the United Sates. Consider the data:
- 64 percent of Americans say that strengthening families is a
greater national priority than increasing job opportunities;
- 77 percent regard strengthening families as more important than a
- 92 percent believe America can only move forward as a nation with
Interestingly, there was little difference in
the opinion of people of different political parties. For example, 67
percent of both Republicans and independents said family issues were
more important than increasing job opportunities and 61 percent of
If all of this seems obvious to you, why isn't
it obvious to our presidential candidates? What has George Bush or Al
Gore or any gubernatorial candidate proposed to do to strengthen the
So far, virtually nothing, except that both
Bush and Gore say they want to reduce the marriage tax penalty that
allows many cohabiting couples to have a lower tax rate than married
couples. However, the Clinton-Gore Administration vetoed a marriage tax
Matt Daniels, the Alliance director, asked
politicians of both parties to heed the admonition of Sen. Pat Moynihan,
described by the Almanac of American Politics as ''the nation's best
thinker among politicians since Lincoln and its best politician since
Jefferson.'' Moynihan said, ''The principal objective of American
government at every level should be to see that children are born into
intact families and that they remain so.''
Interestingly, Moynihan was excoriated by
blacks 35 years ago for his report on ''The Negro Family'' which
reported that 25% of black babies were then being born out of wedlock,
and predicted a continued family disintegration. At this week's press
conference, Rev. Walter Fauntroy, organizer of the 1963 March on
Washington by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ruefully noted that nearly 70
percent of black babies have unmarried fathers. He added that white
illegitimacy has soared from only 2 percent to 25 percent now.
Fauntroy is a Democrat who admires former Vice
President Hubert Humphrey's vision: ''The moral test of government is
how we treat those at the dawn of life, the twilight of life and those
in the shadow of life the sick, poor and the disabled.'' He urged voters
to distinguish between those ''talk the talk but don't walk the walk, of
strengthening the family.''
The Alliance is a non-partisan, racially and
religiously diverse coalition which is as concerned about the divorce
and cohabitation rates as the six-fold jump in out-of-wedlock births.
Skeptical reporters asked what political
leaders could do to reverse these trends.
Daniels said he is challenging both parties
but said his reform agenda is ''bigger than parties and more important
than the election cycle. President Kennedy set a goal to put a man on
the moon in a decade. Let's set a goal of reducing fatherlessness by a
third in this decade. It is a goal that state and federal government
leaders could call on the clergy to work together on.''
He also noted that some governors, such as
Mike Huckabee in Arkansas and Oklahoma's Frank Keating were encouraging
the creation of Community Marriage Policies in which ''clergy come
together to mandate minimal premarital preparation so couples can not go
church shopping for a quick marriage. This is a common sense reform
which has been successful in many cities.''
The Wirthlin poll found that 87 percent of
Americans urge ''businesses to voluntarily do more to help strengthen
their employees marriages by offering flex-time/job sharing/home-based
work options.'' Three-quarters also support two reforms. First, require
counseling by married couples with children who are considering a
divorce before the divorce is granted; second, redcus taxes for married
couples with children. And 63 percent back bigger tax incentives for
One reporter asked about marriages of same-sex
couples. Daniels replied, ''This press conference is not about that at
all. Every state, even Vermont, recognizes marriage as a union of a man
and a woman.''
Finally, Daniels, who acknowledged his own
father abandoned him at age 2, concluded,''We believe there is a need to
fund public education campaigns to emphasize the importance of marriage.
In every society, marriage is what makes fatherhood more than a
biological event, by connecting men to the children they bring into the
world. In every culture, there is no substitute for it. We will either
have a marriage-based culture or a culture of divorce and out of wedlock
Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.