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May 20, 2010

Column #1,499

Conservatives Need A Fresh Issue

By Mike McManus

                Democrats had more reason than Republicans to be happy with primary results this week. In the only contest between the two parties, Democrat Mark Critz defeated Republican Tim Burns by a 53-46 vote for the seat of the late Rep. John Murtha. 

The defeat of five-term Arlen Specter by the dynamic Joe Sestak, will increase the odds the Pennsylvania Senate seat will be retained by Democrats this fall. 

While Conservatives were elated by the wide 24 point margin won by Rand Paul for the Republican nomination to the Senate in Kentucky, the seat is already held by Republicans.

What is increasingly clear is that Republicans do not have a fresh positive message for the electorate.  Their opposition to President Obama and his Health Care Reform will motivate their base in primary contests, but they need to broaden their appeal to win Independents.

 What conservatives need is a fresh cause, one that will appeal to both social conservatives committed to strengthening families – and economic conservatives who want to cut federal spending.

Marriage could be that issue.

Republicans control 49 of the 50 Congressional seats with the highest rates of married people, and Democrats, all 50 seats with the highest percentage of the never-married.

Therefore, I suggest a three-part strategy to strengthen marriage: reduce divorce by reforming No Fault Divorce, reward the responsible spouse, and increase the marriage rate.

1.      Reduce Divorce, which is a far greater threat to marriage than gay marriage. Same-sex marriage

has dominated public policy debate. Yet only 4% of gays have married in Massachusetts after five years. Few want to marry.  However, since 9/11, there have been 9 million divorces. Which is the greater issue? Yet most ignore divorce.

            However, bills to reform No Fault Divorce were introduced this year by state legislators in three states: Missouri by Rep. Cynthia Davis; Michigan by Sen. Michelle McManus ( no relation) and Oklahoma’s Rep. Sally Kern.

            “Marriage produces the best outcomes for citizens, establishing rights and stimulating voluntary fulfillment of responsibilities to family and society,” states Davis’ HB 1234. “The consequences of marriage-absence to individuals and the state of Missouri are serious and costly.  It is the policy of Missouri to stimulate marriage, to encourage spouses to work through the normal processes of marriage and aging, and to divorce only when parties mutually consent or where serious marital irresponsibility overrides the interests of the state.”

            Rep. Davis says, “We are trying to cut the divorce rate in half.”  The Heritage Foundation estimates that single parent families cost taxpayers $300 billion, half of which is due to divorce, $150 billion.  If the divorce rate were cut in half, taxpayers would save $75 billion. Good news in an era of monster deficits.

2.      Reward the Responsible Marriage Partner.  At present, the Irresponsible Partner

who files for divorce, usually the wife, is rewarded with a high percentage of her spouse’s income and child custody. This is unjust and puts the state on the side of marriage destruction. Whoever files for divorce should be considered the irresponsible mate, and get a smaller share of family assets and less child custody than the Responsible Parent who wants to maintain the marriage.

In 22 states one spouse cannot even sue for divorce on grounds of adultery, or physical abuse, such as AZ, CA, CO, FL, KS, KY, MI, MO, NC, and WI.  By contrast Davis’ bill would reinstate traditional fault grounds and add new ones. 

            HB 1234 defines “marital irresponsibility” to include “chronic or continuing substance abuse, a recent history of extramarital sexual affairs, intentional unemployment” and “gratuitously squandering marital assets or hiding them.”  However, there must be “physical evidence or convincing testimony…proving one or more acts of marital irresponsibility.”

            If divorce is granted on fault grounds, “Three-quarters of any valuation increase of marital assets accrued during the marriage shall be assigned to the responsible spouse.”

            Wow, that would really give a spouse a reason to be responsible!

3.      Increase the marriage rate.  “The current system gives the man an incentive not to

get married because he knows that if things are not going well, she can file for divorce and get the kids and generous child support,” says Ron Grignol, of Defending Our Father’s House, a Catholic group.

            “The person who files for divorce, without an allegation of fault, would be considered “irresponsible,” and would have to accept less property and less child custody than the more responsible parent. That would give men an incentive to marry, and preserve more marriages.”

            None of these bills has become law, but they demonstrate how to make marriage a fresh issue.

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