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December 1, 2005
Column #1,266

  A "TwoFer:" Save Marriages and Taxes

A major new study, "With This Ring...A National Survey on Marriage in America,"
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 parents.

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 the arm.

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 pastors.

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 federal funds?


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