As Congress squabbles over how and whether to revamp the welfare law, one thing is clear: The Bush Administration has marriage on the mind. The Administration has already promised to make marriage-related grants through the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Office of Child Support Enforcement and the military, and is banking on a likely $100 million in marriage funds for welfare recipients. Perhaps trying to dispel the appearance of class-based moralizing, Wade Horn, the President's pick to head the marriage initiative, has depicted the federal effort as an attempt at egalitarianism: "Most people have had access to marriage counselors for years," says Horn, a former family therapist himself. "Why shouldn't the poor have the same opportunity?"
But the marriage programs likely to receive funding from any new federal welfare initiative aren't what many think of as couples therapy. In fact, at a recent marriage-movement conference in Washington, where sixty federal employees viewed sample workshops and guided marriage advocates through the federal funding process, mention of the word "therapy" elicited a collective, dismissive chuckle.
Helping distressed couples "isn't about analyzing their feelings to death," Michele Weiner-Davis, author of The Divorce Remedy, told the government administrators and marriage educators at the "Smart Marriages" conference. Indeed, while many a therapist who serves private clients is open to the idea that breaking up may be a solution to a troubled couple's problems, devotees of the marriage movement--from which Horn springs and to which he is expected to dole out most of the welfare marriage grants--generally see staying together as the only good outcome. "The goal should be to save the marriage," says Weiner-Davis.
Though there's no evidence that quick-fix programs will reverse declining marriage rates (let alone that marriage is what poor women really need), welfare dollars will be spent on billboards advertising marriage and high school lessons on the financial and social value of matrimony. First Things First, a grassroots marriage-promotion program in Chattanooga, Tennessee, seems to be something of a model in its PR approach to the issue. …