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May 11, 2002
Column #1080

Government Moves Toward Backing Marriage

     WASHINGTON  The House Ways and Means Committee recently approved the Bush Administration's unprecedented proposal to earmark $300 million for "innovative programs to promote and support healthy, married two-parent families" as part of welfare reform.

     It can pay for "public advertising campaigns on the value of marriage" and classes to teach high school students and unmarried pregnant women and expectant fathers the importance of marriage and relationship skills.  It can also be used for pre-marital education courses, enriching existing marriages and reducing divorce by teaching couples skills to resolve conflict, using "married couples as role models and mentors."

     The bill is expected to pass the House this month. However, the Senate outcome is unclear.

     Knives are out from both the left and the right.  The critics of government's first step into this field are legion.  In my view, most are misinformed.

      "We don't need to encourage more people to marry," asserted Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution.  Wrong.  Only 53 percent of adults are now married., down from 66 percent in 1960.

     In Genesis "The Lord God said, `It is not good for man to be alone.'" Secular evidence backs up  Scriptural wisdom.  Married people are healthier, happier, wealthier, live longer and have better sex, reports "The Case for Marriage" by Maggie Gallagher and Linda Waite.

     Ms. Sawhill, writing in "The American Prospect, asks, "Will more marriages solve the problem?  Hardly. Marriages among teenagers are notoriously unreliable."

     However, nearly a million  unwed mothers are aged 20 or older. Half are cohabiting with the father and another third are romantically involved..  Why shouldn't we encourage them to marry? Frankly, if they don't, odds are they will never marry and are five times more likely to be in poverty than intact families. Their kids are twice as likely to drop out of school and three times more likely to be teen mothers or jailed.

     This week Dr. Brad Wilcox, a young Yale University scholar, at a Pew Forum for Religion & Public Life  noted the founding fathers, such as John Adams, saw marriage as a "seedbed of virtue" a vision  "vindicated by contemporary social science." Marriage fosters such virtues as "fidelity, obligation, trust and sacrifice."  Young men with "selfish and dangerous pursuits" are transformed by hard work and sobriety needed to care for their families.

     However, Wilcox warned that the Founders did not think it was the state's job to cultivate "virtues and values that promote marital stability."  That's the task of churches.  

     Manifestly, they have failed. Divorces have tripled and cohabitation has soared from 400,000 couples in 1960 to 5 million in 2000. Those who live together before marriage have 50 percent higher divorce rates.

     Dr. Richard Cizik, Vice President of the National Association of Evangelicals, a coalition of 51 denominations such as the Assemblies of God, conceded at the Pew Forum that the churches have done a poor job However, he said NAE believes the kind of couple mentoring programs pioneered by Marriage Savers "can save up to 80% to 90% of marriages headed to divorce while counselors save only 20 percent." And he announced NAE, Catholic bishops and Southern Baptists are jointly planning an American Marriage Summit.

     Wendell Primus of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, flatly asserted at Pew that "If you believe in marriage, it ought not to have anything to do with welfare law.  If we as a society are for supporting marriage, we should have strong child support enforcement. We need to spend more money to help young men become marriageable and an initiative to decrease teen pregnancy."

     That's an ad for the Senate version of this bill that would allocate only one third of the $300 million to marriage, one-third to cut teen pregnancies, and another third for job training.  

     However, government already spends $200 million to reduce teen pregnancy and a huge $6 billion on job training. The nation has such strong child support enforcement that collections have jumped from $12 billion in 1996 to $19 billion in 2000.  Yet nothing is spent to promote marriage.

     Would the public support this new initiative?

     A new poll reports that 86 percent of Americans believe that it is important to children in low income families that  "their parents get and stay married."  Virtually the same percent favor pilot programs to reduce out-of-wedlock births "by referring interested couples to marriage education and preparation programs" and to educate teens "on the importance of waiting for marriage."

     If you agree, I urge you to write your Senators.

Copyright 2002 Michael J. McManus.

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