- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

The dialogue on marriage continues to be the subject of a spate of books, documentaries and articles exploring its definition, its importance and, increasingly, the politics that surround it.
Now that Republicans will be taking full control of Congress, the national marriage movement's future may be looking brighter.
With the midterm elections shifting political power, "I'm assuming that things are really going to change," said Diane Sollee, director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education.
At least $100 million for marriage education and likely a full $300 million should be allocated when welfare reform is taken up again, which many say will be early next year.
In 2000, Ms. Sollee joined 100 other academic, religious, political and civic leaders in a pledge to "turn the tide on marriage and reduce divorce and unmarried childbearing" in the United States.
Linking welfare and marriage has become fodder for think tanks and advocacy groups, who are churning out papers on the issue at a steady pace. The explosion of interest in pro-marriage activities means "we already know the public wants this information," she said.
PBS' "Frontline" focuses on the debate in a new episode, "Let's Get Married."
"Marriage is in trouble," and there are new efforts to "put matrimony at the forefront of the national conversation," say promos of the show, which airs today at 9 p.m. on Maryland Public Television and 10 p.m. on WETA-TV Channel 26.
The show will discuss provocative and common questions, such as: Should the government have an activist role in personal relationships? And does marriage, in fact, really matter?
People who say "no" to both questions include feminist and welfare-rights groups, who voice the strongest opposition to the marriage movement.
A primary complaint is that "it's ridiculous" to divert money from core welfare services to fluffy, feel-good services like marriage education, says Avis Jones-DeWeever, a policy analyst at the Institute for Women's Policy Research.
Opponents of government-funded marriage programs want as few welfare dollars as possible going to counseling and classes.
"Marriage promotion is not an anti-poverty strategy," especially when huge needs still exist for child care, education and training, all of which genuinely help mothers find work and escape poverty, Ms. Jones-DeWeever says.
If money has to go to marriage promotion, she said, "I think that we need to think in a more broad way," such as helping people find jobs.
"As we all know," she said, "income stressors are one of the main issues that cause marriages to dissolve. If you improve the economic circumstances of families, as an extension to that, you will be improving marriages."
Another belief is that most mothers on welfare have been in violent relationships and marriage promotion will lead to abusive marriages.
Moreover, many women on welfare are married but estranged from their husbands, thus demonstrating that "marriage was not an option that worked for these women," said Diana Spatz, executive director of Low-Income Families' Empowerment through Education, an anti-poverty advocacy group in Oakland, Calif.
Other complaints are that men in low-income communities are not good prospects for marriage, that lesbian welfare mothers will be excluded from pro-marriage activities and that marriage education hasn't been proved to have long-term social benefits.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, which has long championed marriage as a rewarding and permanent way out of poverty, has issued a paper on the "record of success" of marriage-education programs.
Some 29 peer-reviewed social science journal articles "provide ample evidence that marriage education, training and counseling programs some of which have been around for more than 30 years significantly strengthen marriage," wrote Heritage analysts Patrick F. Fagan, Robert W. Patterson and Robert Rector.
Positive outcomes included less strife between husband and wife, better communication in the family, improved parenting skills and more marital happiness.
In addition, the analysts wrote, evidence shows that emotional issues break up marriages more than financial issues.
"A recent survey in Oklahoma asked divorced welfare recipients about the reasons their marriages had failed," the Heritage analysts wrote. "The three most common reasons were lack of commitment, too much conflict, and infidelity.
"These problems," they said, "are precisely what the marriage-strengthening programs included in the president's plan are designed to address."
Theodora Ooms, who writes on marriage issues for the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), a liberal think tank in Washington, has been consulting with Oklahoma in its 3-year-old statewide welfare-funded marriage initiative.
"The lesson of Oklahoma, which is a few steps ahead of other states, is that it took them the first year or two" to make its plans, figure out resources and overcome resistance to the idea, said Mrs. Ooms. "My hope is that the [federal] grants process is set up to give states that time maybe one-year planning grants."
Mrs. Ooms also hopes that the final welfare law will take a "marriage-plus" approach. This would mean that welfare funds can be spent on programs to help "more children grow up with their two biological, married parents in a reasonably healthy, stable relationship." Marriage education and teen-pregnancy prevention programs would qualify under this definition.
A second goal "the plus" part would be to help unmarried, separated and divorced parents become financially responsible and cooperative in raising their children. Thus, the marriage funds also could be used for employment, parenting, substance abuse and domestic-violence programs.
"These are not alternative goals," Mrs. Ooms said. "Children need us to pursue both."
Politically conflicting plans have been floated. Before Election Day, Republicans and their allies battled the Democrat-led Senate over the idea of allocating some welfare funds to marriage-promotion activities. Led by President Bush, the Republicans asked that up to $300 million a year be targeted to marriage and couples' education, counseling and demonstration projects. The House passed such a provision in its welfare-reform bill in May.
But Senate Democrats counteroffered with a $200 million program that could be used for marriage promotion or any other welfare-related need, such as child care and job training. Republican allies called that plan a farce because it allowed the "marriage" money to be used for virtually any kind of welfare program.
With the debate energized by change, pro-marriage advocates try to keep perspective. Ms. Sollee says as wonderful as federal money for marriage education will be, the accompanying message would be more significant; namely, "that marriage is so important they're going to spend money on it."

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