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October 14, 2009
Column #1,468
What Politician Is Most Committed to Marriage?
By Mike McManus

What candidate for the nation's highest office said that it is vital "for the country" that children are raised by a married mother and father, because "family matters"?

Or this: "What a crazy thing for a country to be saying to people when we all know that family breakdown has such terrible consequences: `Split up and be better off.'  What a crazy thing for the family to do.  It is madness that we have this approach" by government today.

You have not heard that from Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney.

Indeed, President Obama is going in the opposite direction.  Last Saturday he became the first U.S. President to address the Human Rights Campaign, America's largest pro-gay organization, where he pledged to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, in which Congress recognized marriage as the union of a man and woman and refused Social Security benefits to same-sex couples.

The gay marriage issue has distracted our nation from the more fundamental need to strengthen traditional marriage.

What can be done to reverse the trend that marriage rates have plunged in half with the result that two out of five children are being born out-of-wedlock, and half of marriages end in divorce?

Political leaders need to fight for marriage, like the candidate quoted above.  I don't know of any in America who are doing so.  Those quotes are by David Cameron, leader of the British Conservative Party and most likely the next Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Here's another quote from Maria Miller, a young Member of Parliament, the Conservative Party's spokeswoman on families:

"More than nine out of ten 15-year-olds want to get married at some point in their lives. The Conservative Party unashamedly supports families, unashamedly supports marriage."  Why? "Marriage provides a sort of stable framework for our lives and, with the evidence right in front of us, it is madness not to support marriage. That's why we are committed to introducing the recognition of marriage in the tax and benefit system."

Similar reforms ought to be considered by Americans:

1.  Give tax breaks to married couples. One proposal would increase tax benefits to British couples when one partner stays home to care for children. For example, if the husband earns $32,000 and the wife remains at home, Tories are proposing tax subsidies to raise that family's income to $34,552. 

If she works part-time, earning $16,000, the family's take-home pay is only $40,680 due to a 46% tax rate on the second person's income.  Therefore, she has a real incentive to be a full-time mother, which many would like to do. Public costs could be held down by limiting tax breaks to parents of preschool children. 

There are two side benefits.  Children fare better with more of their mother's time. Some workers will  quit jobs, providing opportunities to the unemployed.

2.  Reduce penalties of marriage.  To David Cameron, it makes no sense to tell the family struggling to raise children, "Stay together, and we'll give you less; split up, and we will give you more."  He notes that "There are two million children in Britain growing up in houses where no one works. That is the highest in Europe. It is one in six children in our country."

Under Britain's present tax and benefit system, cohabiting couples are better off than a married couple, due to what he calls a marriage penalty. No wonder that Britain's marriage rate is down two-thirds from its peak in 1970. Consequently, Cameron proposes eliminating the marriage penalty so that cohabiting couples have an incentive to marry.

Harry Benson, who teaches relationship education in Bristol, England, conducted a study of 15,000 British mothers who gave birth in 2000-2001. He reports, "By the child's fifth birthday, 9 percent of married mothers had split up, but 35 percent of unmarried partners.  The single biggest factor on whether they stayed together or not, was whether they were married."

In America 55 percent of cohabiting couples break up in five years vs. 23 percent of marriages. Half of unwed births are born to cohabiting women. An unmarried mother is likely to get welfare, Medicaid, food stamps, housing and day care subsidies, who also benefits from his income. But if the couple marries, she loses thousands of dollars of benefits and tax subsidies - a marriage penalty.

Why not continue the subsidies for two years to encourage the couple to marry, and give those children a much more secure future?

Many studies demonstrate that children reared by married parents do better in school, have fewer emotional problems, and are less likely to become pregnant or incarcerated.

It's time for America to be pro-marriage, rather than pro-cohabitation.

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