- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

It has taken 20 years to woo 200 cities and counties into signing agreements to combat divorce and promote marriage in their communities, Marriage Savers founders Mike and Harriet McManus said yesterday.

With President Bush’s enactment yesterday of a $150-million-a-year federal grant program for healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood, it shouldn’t take nearly as long to double that number, Mr. McManus told a panel discussion on marriage at the Family Research Council.

Applications for the grant should be available “in a month or two,” said Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary of the administration for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

State and local governments and organizations, both secular and faith-based, can apply for the grants, he said. Up to $50 million a year is available for programs on responsible fatherhood.

The grant program is in the welfare section of the deficit-reduction legislation that Mr. Bush signed yesterday. Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, said more work needs to be done on welfare laws to remove their disincentives to marriage.

Mr. Horn praised the McManuses for a starting a program that leaves “a legacy of marriage.”

Since 1986, about 30,000 marriages have been strengthened under the Marriage Savers’ Community Marriage Policy (CMP), Mr. Horn said. If the average family has two children, that means 60,000 children have been “saved from the pain of divorce.”

Under a CMP, clergy agree not to marry a couple unless they have received premarital counseling. The community also agrees to train marriage “mentor” couples and offer classes, counseling and support groups on marriage enrichment, reconciliation and stepfamily issues.

Modesto, Calif., was the first locale to sign a CMP in 1986. Since then, the city’s divorce rate has fallen by 57 percent and the marriage rate has increased by 12 percent, the McManuses said.

A 2004 study found that communities with CMPs in place, even for a short time, had divorce rates at least 2 percent lower than comparison counties.

Las Cruces, N.M., has become the 200th city with a CMP.

The CMP isn’t always accepted, said the Rev. Scott Ruthven, pastor at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and CMP organizer in Las Cruces. Some think it’s “too narrow” or “doesn’t allow for nontraditional couples.”

On the other hand, he said, 10 more churches have expressed interest in signing up.

Mr. McManus, who writes a column on ethics and religion, urged policy leaders to set national goals for reducing divorce and encouraging marriage.

If the nation’s marriage rate was at 1970s levels, he said, there would be 1 million more married couples instead of rising rates of cohabiting and unwed childbearing.


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