- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2005

Perhaps one of the most memorable moments of a couple’s courtship is the wedding proposal. Television shows have chronicled unique proposals and Web sites offer suggestions for the perfect marriage proposal location, theme and process. Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the District of Columbia has introduced a different type of marriage proposal to low-income D.C. residents and if enacted it could lead to wedded bliss for these couples.

Under Mr. Brownback’s proposal low-income engaged couples in the District would get an opportunity to establish savings accounts eligible for matching funds for buying a home, sending a child to college or starting a business. The program, which would cost about $3 million, would also provide support to organizations providing services to low-income engaged couples considering marriage.

While critics have decried this proposal as another extension of conservative idealism, it nevertheless is attracting wide ranging bipartisan support, which includes Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, District of Columbia Democrat.

Support for the legislation is based primarily on the fact various studies have shown married couples and the children born to married couples fare much better in many areas than unmarried couples and their children. A collection of studies compiled by the Family Research Council illustrates that married couples and their children enjoy tremendous advantages in terms of health and well-being, economic stability and other factors.

Many couples have the desire to marry and enjoy these and other benefits but cannot because of financial constraints and other considerations. Mr. Brownback’s proposal would eliminate some of these constraints and thereby make marriage a more viable option for low-income D.C. couples.

If most married couples with children were to list three major priorities for their lives together, they would most likely be to buy a home, save money to send their children to college, and build toward a stable retirement. The proposal would provide federal support to couples working toward these priorities.

The true beneficiaries would be the children of poor families. Shockingly, more than half of the children born in Washington, D.C., last year were born into single-parent households. Studies have shown children born into single-parent households on average do not perform as well academically as children of married couples. In addition, boys born into single-parent households are likelier to commit crimes.

Mr. Brownback’s proposal promotes marriage as a first step to building a household conducive to the personal, social and professional development of children while providing support to parents who want to save to ensure their children can pursue a college education.

The provision of funds in a matching format encourages fiscal responsibility among newly married low-income couples. It also could have a positive economic effect on the D.C. area by increasing home and business ownership among African-Africans in the District.

The Brownback proposal is an extension of earnest enactments to promote marriage since 1996 when Congress funded various marriage education programs as a part of sweeping welfare reforms. The Bush administration has very actively promoted marriage as a way to reduce the sting of poverty especially among children by spending more than $56 million since 2002 on the Healthy Marriages Initiative — a grant program for nonprofit organizations that focus on marriage and family education and assistance.

While there is wide-ranging support for Mr. Brownback’s proposal, there is sure to be opposition from groups who dispute how much effect marriage has on low-income couples and their children. These groups see the proposal as a federally funded attempt to impose a social agenda on citizens. Unfortunately, these groups cannot see the Brownback proposal is not a way to enforce a marriage mandate on low-income couples but rather a way to give couples an opportunity to build a better life for themselves and their children, which will have a positive impact on surrounding communities.

Let’s hope Congress says “yes” to Mr. Brownback’s interesting marriage proposal.

Alvin Williams is the president and chief executive officer of Black America’s Political Action Committee (BAMPAC).

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