| December 1, 2005
A "TwoFer:" Save Marriages and Taxes
A major new study, "With This Ring...A National Survey on Marriage in
provides powerful evidence that legislation pending in Congress
reallocating $200 million to promote healthy marriages - would be an
excellent national investment. The study was conducted for the National
Fatherhood Initiative by U. Texas Prof. Norval Glenn.
The study states 86 percent of Americans agreed that all couples
considering marriage should have premarital counseling. It reports those
with successful marriages were 60% more likely to have had premarital
counseling. And 73 percent of unmarried couples would attend premarital
classes, if they were available at no cost.
Virtually all clergy say they provide free premarital counseling, and 86
percent of all marriages are performed by pastors or priests. Yet 63
percent of all married respondents told the survey they had NO
premarital counseling. Why?
Typically pastors offer a session or two to help couples plan weddings.
That is evidence most churches are wedding factories.
However, 10,000 clergy in 198 cities have signed "Community Marriage
Policies" in which they agreed to require rigorous marriage preparation
involving taking a premarital inventory to help couples get an objective
view of their relationship, and discuss issues it surfaces with a
trained mentor couple over four months.
Churches taking this step reduced their divorce rate to near zero, such
as a 3 percent rate in my church over a decade. Divorce rates for entire
metro areas have fallen 50 percent in some cities such as Austin, Texas.
Thus, there is great potential for reducing divorce rates by simply
improving premarital preparation. However, most clergy do not know what
works. What's lacking is full-time staff to organize clergy and train
mentor couples. This is particularly true of large metro areas. The bulk
of cities with Community Marriage Policies (CMPs) are smaller ones that
can be organized with volunteers.
(Disclosure: my wife and I lead Marriage Savers, a group that helped
clergy create the CMPs and the Administration asked me to speak to
leaders of Healthy Marriage Initiatives.)
Three years ago President Bush proposed a "Healthy Marriage Initiative"
as part of the re-authorization of welfare reform, reallocating $200
million for "Premarital education and marriage skills training" and for
"Marriage mentoring programs which use married couples as role models
and mentors in at-risk communities."
Funds could also be used for "Divorce reduction programs that teach
relationship skills" and for "Marriage enhancement and marriage skills
training programs for married couples." The bill, passed in the House
three times, was never voted on by the Senate.
The National Fatherhood Initiative Marriage Survey (NFIMS) reports a
need for such initiatives. Fully 94 percent of Americans agree that
divorce is a serious national problem and 97 percent agree that "Fathers
are as important as mothers for the proper development of children."
Nine of ten surveyed say "Couples who marry should make a lifelong
commitment to one another, to be broken only under rare circumstances."
Yet the reality is that 1.4 million births annually are to unwed
couples, 36 percent of births. And half of marriages end in
divorce. Sadly, only 44 percent of teenagers live with their own married
NFIMS also found that fewer than 40 percent of first marriages "seem to
be reasonably successful after 20 years." Most marriages need a shot in
There are many ways to do that. Two million couples have attended a
Marriage Encounter retreat, 80 percent of whom say they fell back in
love with their spouse. That certainly happened in my marriage in 1976.
How can federal funding help personal relationships? Bob Suver, Director
of Jobs and Family Services (welfare) in Springfield, Ohio, heard me
speak at a federal seminar. He invested $100,000 of public funds to
create a Community Marriage Policy in 2004 that has been signed by 80
In the first six months of this year, county divorce rates fell 29
percent below the average for 2000-2003. Suver says, "That will save
taxpayers millions in welfare, food stamps, etc."
It is cheaper to save marriages than to pay for broken ones.
The $200 million for Healthy Marriages is appropriately in the House
Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. Yet the version to be voted upon by the
U.S. Senate in two weeks does NOT contain the marriage funding, even
though it is a reallocation of existing funds, not new money.
How can the Republican Senate not be interested in saving marriages and
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