Call it Bush v. Murphy Brown: the rematch. After the spring of
1992, when Vice President Dan Quayle denounced CBS TV character
Murphy Brown for bearing a child alone and calling it "just another
lifestyle choice," the vice president's moralistic tone became grist
for political humorists for years to come.
Now, a new Bush administration and GOP Congress are reengaging in
the nation's culture war, once again focusing on the institution of
marriage. But this time, they say, no one is laughing - evidence
showing the benefits of marriage to children is more compelling than
From a proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex
marriage to new funding for programs to promote "healthy" marriage
at the state level, Washington is making an unprecedented move into
one of the most private and pivotal institutions in American life.
"In a remarkably short period of time, we have moved past the
question of whether government ought to be involved in supporting
healthy marriages to the ques- tion of how government should be
involved," said Wade Horn, assistant Secretary for children and
families in the Department of Health and Human Services, before a
Senate panel last week.
So far, many of the new moves are modest - and in their infancy.
But critics say that such programs could involve government in a
relationship where it does not belong, and produce misguided policy,
including encouraging women and children to stay in a possibly
New federal moves are wide-ranging. Among them: eliminating
barriers to marriage - such as the permanent repeal of the so-
called "marriage penalty" in the US tax code, which the House passed
last week, and a pending rewrite of national welfare laws to provide
$300 million in incentives for programs to promote "healthy" married
Meanwhile, several states have also launched a spate of new
initiatives, with the most detailed legislation coming out of the
conservative South and Southwest. Since the mid-1990s, all states
have made at least one policy change to promote marriage or reduce
Forty now fund couples- and marriage-related services. And 36
have revised their welfare eligibility rules to include two- parent
families. Nine states now offer bonuses for marriage.
"It is worth noting that there is little marriage-related policy
activity in the northeastern states, and two of the three most
populous states [California and New York] have no appreciable state
marriage initiatives," according to a new report by the Center for
Law and Social Policy in Washington.
In Senate hearings last week, lawmakers also discussed whether
Washington should make it harder for couples to end a marriage, by
challenging several states' "no-fault" divorce laws.
"Tell me the wisdom of a system where it is easier to get a
marriage license than a hunting license, or where it is easier to
get out of a marriage than a Tupperware contract," said former Gov.
Frank Keating (R) of Oklahoma before a Senate panel on "Healthy
Marriage" last week. …