| March 15,
Bush's $100 Million For Marriage
by Michael J. McManus
I have not seen a single news story about it, but there is great news about
marriage in America. For the first time, the Federal Government is going to
invest $100 million a year to strengthen marriage over the next five years.
President Bush signed the law February 8, which was part of the re-authorization
of Welfare Reform. It is not new money, but a reallocation of funds that were
poorly spent to reduce out-of-wedlock births. They actually increased from 1.2
million in 1995 to 1.4 million in 2003.
The key question is who will get the money? Most likely state and local welfare
offices will. Why? They know how to write applications for federal aid. However,
they are the least likely groups to use the money well. In fact, their welfare
rules and regulations have contributed mightily to the disintegration of
marriage. The marriage rate has plunged 48 percent since 1970.
Those groups with the greatest capacity to reduce divorce and cohabitation rates
- churches and synagogues - are unlikely to apply for this federal aid. As my
pastor put it, "We will never take one dollar of federal aid."
But that misses the point. Healthy Marriage Initiatives have started in many
cities which could receive the money and hire staff to work with congregations
to help them do a better job preparing couples for marriage, enriching existing
marriages, or saving troubled ones.
However, local religious leadership needs to demand a voice in the allocation of
the funds. That will not be easy for two key reasons:
First, local churches rarely cooperate. Religious leadership is
splintered. Catholic churches, ten times larger than Protestant ones, typically
ignore them. Protestants are divided between conservative Evangelical clergy who
know each other, but not Mainline Protestants who have their own liberal
Councils of Churches. Minority clergy generally stick to themselves.
Second, the marital pioneering done by some denominations or local churches is
unknown to most local clergy. Catholics historically have a marriage strategy
which works well enough that only 25 percent of Catholics have divorced compared
to 39 percent of Protestants. Catholics require six months of rigorous marriage
preparation that includes taking a premarital inventory and training in conflict
resolution skills. They also created Marriage Encounter that has strengthened 2
million existing marriages and Retrouvaille, which restores 80 percent of the
70,000 deeply troubled marriages (retrouvaille.org).
However, individual Protestant churches have pioneered successful post-marital
answers in local churches. St. David's Episcopal Church in Jacksonville created
a "Marriage Ministry" in which couples who have recovered from crippling
problems, such as adultery, learned to mentor couples challenged by similar
issues. Over five years mentors saved 38 out of 40 troubled marriages.
Roswell (GA) United Methodist Church created a Stepfamily Support Group which
gives stepparents a place and a plan to learn how to create a successful
blending family. This solution saves 80 percent of stepfamilies that usually
divorce at a 70% rate – a total reversal.
What can be done for marriages in which one partner wants to leave while the
spouse is trying to save the marriage? Joe and Michelle Williams developed a
self-guided workbook course at their evangelical church in Modesto, CA called
"Reconciling God's Way." The spouse working at the marriage takes the course
with a same gender friend who meets an hour weekly for 3 months, asking
questions suggested by a "Support Partner Handbook."
For more information about these solutions or about Community Marriage Policies
that have jump-started these reforms in 201 cities, call Marriage Savers, an
organization my wife and I created (301 469-5873).
The new law will fund initiatives which could foster such marriage-saving
solutions. Specifically, it will allow eight different activities to be funded:
1. Public advertising campaigns on the value of marriage and skills needed for
2. Education in high schools on the value of marriage, relationship skills and
3. Marriage education that teaches unwed pregnant women and expectant fathers
relationship and parenting skills.
4. Premarital education and marriage skills training for engaged couples and
for couples or individuals
5. Marriage enrichment and marital skills training programs for existing
6. Divorce reduction programs that teach conflicted couples relationship
7. Marriage mentoring programs which use married couples as role models and
mentors in at-risk communities.
8. Programs to reduce the disincentives to marriage in means-tested aid
programs, such as welfare, food stamps or Medicaid which are normally cut or
eliminated if a single parent marries - if offered with marriage education.
This is a new day for marriage, thanks to the new law that was crafted by HHS
Assistant Secretary Wade Horn.
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