- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2002

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes so-and-so with a baby carriage. Or so the little ditty goes. These days, though, love often has nothing to do with marriage, baby carriages are sometimes financed courtesy of the government and, in far too many instances, Daddy is nowhere to be found.

Those are the new facts of American life. Values and traditions are tossed to the wind. "Sex and the City" and gender-oriented TV commercials have become the cultural standards on which we base singlehood. It's OK to toss a beer in boyfriend's face, so long as it's not a Heineken.

Still, while it's all fiction, the PC police are again at war. This time the National Organization for Women and the Institute for Women's Policy Research are circling the Bush administration's welfare-reform legislation and its marriage-counseling proposal, which offer hope for America's families.

As Cheryl Wetzstein reported Monday, couples and caseworkers like the idea that the 1996 welfare-reform law allows states to use welfare dollars to promote marriage. One Arizona couple, Darrin and Valerie Chandler, described themselves as stubborn and didn't expect to gain anything from the classes. They called the class a "total blessing," and said, slowly but surely, working together they are pulling themselves out of debt. Randy and Jennifer Vaughn's on-again, off-again marriage was sheer frustration. Now, after the marriage seminars, they are "getting onto the same page."

Marriage isn't for everyone, and it's certainly a give-and-take commitment. And it would be naive to think that a few classes could turn around a truly horrible marriage stung by, say violence or substance abuse. But third parties can help.

Indeed, when it comes to aiding the poor, third parties (the government and its endless stream of subsidies) are already deeply involved in their day-to-day lives. That's why suggesting that single parents on welfare consider marriage counseling is an obvious extension of the welfare-reform reauthorization legislation.

Women's libbers, of course, disagree. NOW supports the Senate version of the welfare-reauthorization bill for several reasons, mostly because of its funding stipulations including benefits for illegal immigrants and decreased funds for abstinence-only programs. The Institute for Women's Policy Research, meantime, takes a high-brow approach, arguing that Washington's welfare-policy wonks couldn't possibly understand the complexities of love and marriage among the poor. Why not seek to build strong families of all types instead of using the Ozzie and Harriet model, one researcher asks?

How silly. While we tend to remember the '50s as the idyllic life, we tend to forget that those were post- and pre-war times a warp in time. Besides, the 30-minute sitcom was no more true to American realities than that 30-minute sitcom on HBO "Sex in the City."

Sure, the ideal might be for Ozzie and sons David and Ricky to change the oil in the family station wagon while Harriet bakes a peach cobbler from scratch. But, in these politically correct times, girls don't even take home economics courses. Aprons are as foreign to today's girls as dipsticks are to boys. Jiffy Lube's a short walk from the mall, and today's welfare moms grab Mrs. Smith's frozen baked goods without breaking a manicured nail and pays for them with foods stamps.

Other new facts of American life are neither new nor uplifting:

• Mothers who never marry are abused at three times the rates of married, separated and divorced couples.

• Children who live with their mom and mom's boyfriend but not their dad are 33 times more likely to be abused.

• Divorce rates are dropping. In Kansas City, Kan., divorces declined 33 percent after 40 pastors signed a marriage-counseling covenant.

• Children raised in broken homes are more likely to co-habitate, divorce and have babies without benefit of marriage than children reared by both parents.

On the other hand, the 1996 welfare-reform law and its flexible-funding stipulations regarding marriage counseling mean that:

• Out-of-wedlock childbirths declined.

• Welfare rolls have almost been cut in half.

• Four million-plus fewer Americans are living in poverty.

The welfare-reform reauthorization bills in the House and Senate are not perfect. No law written by Congress is. However, to argue, as the libbers do, that the marriage-counseling provision would force poverty-stricken women to stay in sour and abusive relationships is a black lie. The facts, and I've only presented generalizations, speak for themselves about the already bad relationships poor women and their children are involved in.

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