- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2002

An array of anti-poverty, feminist and unmarried-couple advocacy groups are urging the Bush administration and other policy-makers to call off their plans to use taxpayer funds to promote marriage.
"Marriage is one of the most personal, private decisions we can think of, and most people who are on welfare wouldn't want the government telling them when they should be getting married," said Dorian Solot of the Alternatives to Marriage Project (ATMP), a Boston group for unmarried people.
The ATMP is responding to calls by conservative groups for Congress to allocate welfare funds for marriage education and other pro-marriage activities for low-income couples.
Conservatives argue that having a child outside marriage is a ticket to poverty and welfare, and that government which already pays enormous sums for the maintenance of single-parent families has the responsibility and the right to encourage marriage as a healthier, wealthier lifestyle for couples and children.
The Bush administration recently hinted that it might create a $100 million fund for marriage-promotion activities.
"The interest in promoting marriage is very well intentioned but I think it's the unintended effects that are dangerous here," said Miss Solot, who recently outlined her objections in a report she and her partner, Marshall Miller, wrote, called "Let Them Eat Wedding Rings: The Role of Marriage Promotion in Welfare Reform."
According to census data, she said, 44 percent of American adults aren't married and 11 million unmarried couples live together, an increase of 72 percent since 1990.
These unmarried couples and their children are already stigmatized and denied benefits, compared with married families, she said. "It scares me to think of all the harm that's already being done to unmarried families and the idea that it could get a lot worse."
Marriage is not an anti-poverty program, said Kate Kahan, director of Working for Equality and Economic Liberation (WEEL), a Montana anti-poverty group.
In testimony she gave Bush administration officials last year when they went on a welfare "listening tour," Miss Kahan explained how, as an unwed teen-age mother, she decided to marry the father of her child.
The decision was disastrous "less than two years later, I found myself fleeing a violent home," she said.
After leaving her husband, Miss Kahan went on welfare, got an education and a job all of which helped her move out of poverty.
"Marriage was not the solution to my poverty or my son's poverty," she testified, adding that her story is "reflective" of many other poor mothers.
WEEL and dozens of other anti-poverty groups are preparing a campaign to persuade lawmakers to keep welfare money focused on anti-poverty programs, not marriage, Miss Kahan said last week. Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, will be one of the prime recipients of their materials, she said.
Other allies in the anti-marriage effort are the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR), which are both quoted in the ATMP report.
"If marriage were a solution to poverty, it wouldn't take an act of Congress to promote it," said Patricia Ireland, former president of NOW, in a June discussion about welfare funds and marriage.
Leaders of IWPR said in December they had not found "any scientific research" that showed that pro-marriage policies "actually reduce poverty."

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