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WETZSTEIN: What does 2009 hold for families?

- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2009

As 2009 gets under way, here are some family issues to watch:

• Obama administration leadership changes -- President-elect Barack Obama already has announced his choice for health and human services secretary -- former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who is expected to become something of a "health care czar." Other unnamed HHS appointees, however, likely will be the managers of the nation's bedrock family issues such as family planning, sex education, adoption, child welfare, child support, child care, Head Start and welfare programs. A big question is whether the Obama administration will renew -- or redistribute -- $750 million in grants for healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood. The first batch of these grants runs through September 2011.

• The Obamas' real-life modeling of marriage and fatherhood -- Presidential families are always "first families" and Mr. Obama; wife, Michelle; and their two daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, will attract extraordinary interest as the first black family in the White House. One can only hope they will adapt well to the enormous pressures of public life and the demands of the nation's most difficult and often-thankless job.

• The feminist agenda -- With Democrats in control of the executive and legislative branches, the action agenda of feminist groups should get full consideration. The National Organization for Women wants to see paid leave for parents, "family service credits" added to Social Security benefits calculations in honor of years spent working at home or as a caregiver, at least $10 billion added to the Child Care Development Block Grant, bigger child care credits for working parents and an end to the five-year cap on federal welfare checks to poor families "until the economic crisis passes."

• Domestic violence -- As a senator, Mr. Obama talked about bringing domestic violence "out of the darkness of isolation and into the light of justice" and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is practically a signature issue for Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. With this team in the White House, efforts to combat domestic violence -- including appointing a White House adviser to oversee enforcement of VAWA -- should be well received.

• The gay rights agenda -- Gay rights advocates' wish lists include removing the "don't ask, don't tell" military policy and repealing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage in federal law as the union of one man and one woman and clarifies that states do not have to honor gay unions from other states. In addition, groups such as the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) want laws passed to forbid discrimination in the workplace and hate crimes in general, plus the "appointment of judges and justices who support civil rights and civil liberties." GLAD, whose attorneys scored landmark wins for gay marriage in Massachusetts, Connecticut and California, has set a goal of marriage equality in every state in New England by 2012.

• Poverty -- Mr. Obama talked about poverty reduction on the campaign trail, and there are myriad think tanks and anti-poverty advocacy groups that would love to help him achieve that goal. A huge issue will be how to measure poverty in the 21st century -- the old formula, which is based on the cost of food in the 1960s, gets further from reality every day. Changing the poverty measurement, however, instantly will change many families' poverty status -- and affect states' allotment of means-tested federal funding. Look for a very emotional and complex debate as state leaders fight to reduce poverty but still keep every last one of their welfare dollars.

• Sexual politics -- The Obama administration will be lobbied hard to undo -- i.e., defund -- the Bush administration's expansions in abstinence education. On abortion, Mr. Obama famously has pledged to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which essentially would supercede state and federal restrictions on abortion. He also is being urged to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal funding of abortion, and disallow "conscience" clauses that permit health care workers to opt out of reproductive health services on moral or religious grounds.

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