- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Regardless of who wins Tuesday, the next administration certainly will see more upheaval in America’s family culture.

One area will be in the number of births to single mothers.

Fresh federal data is due in a few weeks, and it’s likely the unwed birthrate will continue to grow. At its current pace, it could rise from its current 38.5 percent to 42.5 percent by 2012.

What will our country be like when almost half of our children are born without legal attachment to their fathers? This would be an unprecedented “change” for our nation.

Roland C. Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), notes that there are “well-documented social and emotional costs of father absence for our nation’s children.” It’s also expensive - an NFI study released this year estimated that single-mother families “cost” the nation $100 billion a year in services and lost revenue.

“Indeed, in these difficult financial times, we cannot afford father absence,” writes Mr. Warren, who was raised by a devoted single mother but doesn’t hesitate to decry glamorization of fatherless homes.

Will the new administration step up efforts to discourage unwed pregnancy? Will it support and expand efforts to encourage healthy, stable relationships, including marriage?

A second upheaval is likely to be in the practice of premarital cohabiting. The next administration will be in place for the 2010 Census, which will capture new data on modern living arrangements, including cohabiting.

Many young people (and their relatives) think cohabiting is benign or even helpful as a marriage-preparation experience. I am still looking for evidence that either of such concepts is true for most people.

Instead, there is a growing body of research that suggests that living together for significant lengths of time before marrying makes divorce more likely - which, to me, defeats the main purpose for living together first.

Many young adults live together first because their parents divorced and they want to avoid a replay. But “easy” divorce still permeates our culture. Will the new administration take any steps to highlight how divorce has ravaged our family culture, and how cohabiting is a growing - but often futile - attempt to make a course correction? The government pays for research on everything under the sun; surely, the new administration can ask that some funding explore how more Americans can successfully form cohesive, stable, loving and lasting married relationships and families.

Which brings me to the third family upheaval - gay marriage.

Regardless of Tuesday’s vote in California to keep gay marriage or overturn it, gay couples will have Connecticut and Massachusetts to seek marriage with their partners. This guarantees more gay married couples.

As I said before, the nation should be interested in how Americans can form cohesive, stable, loving and lasting (married) relationships and families. This includes gay relationships - which means one of the best things the new administration can do is fund some serious, unbiased, peer-reviewed research into gay relationships and gay parenting. There have been many preposterous claims made about gay marriage, pro and con, in the gay marriage lawsuits. It’s time for the lawyers to step aside and let serious researchers answer some questions about this new family form.

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.