Match Made in Policy; Newly Empowered GOP Hopes to Tie Knot on Welfare, marriage.(NATION)(CULTURE, ET CETERA)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 14, 2002 | Go to article overview

Match Made in Policy; Newly Empowered GOP Hopes to Tie Knot on Welfare, marriage.(NATION)(CULTURE, ET CETERA)


Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The dialogue on marriage continues to be the subject of a spate of books, documentaries and articles exploring its definition, its importance and, increasingly, the politics that surround it.

Now that Republicans will be taking full control of Congress, the national marriage movement's future may be looking brighter.

With the midterm elections shifting political power, "I'm assuming that things are really going to change," said Diane Sollee, director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education.

At least $100 million for marriage education and likely a full $300 million should be allocated when welfare reform is taken up again, which many say will be early next year.

In 2000, Ms. Sollee joined 100 other academic, religious, political and civic leaders in a pledge to "turn the tide on marriage and reduce divorce and unmarried childbearing" in the United States.

Linking welfare and marriage has become fodder for think tanks and advocacy groups, who are churning out papers on the issue at a steady pace. The explosion of interest in pro-marriage activities means "we already know the public wants this information," she said.

PBS' "Frontline" focuses on the debate in a new episode, "Let's Get Married."

"Marriage is in trouble," and there are new efforts to "put matrimony at the forefront of the national conversation," say promos of the show, which airs today at 9 p.m. on Maryland Public Television and 10 p.m. on WETA-TV Channel 26.

The show will discuss provocative and common questions, such as: Should the government have an activist role in personal relationships? And does marriage, in fact, really matter?

People who say "no" to both questions include feminist and welfare-rights groups, who voice the strongest opposition to the marriage movement.

A primary complaint is that "it's ridiculous" to divert money from core welfare services to fluffy, feel-good services like marriage education, says Avis Jones-DeWeever, a policy analyst at the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Opponents of government-funded marriage programs want as few welfare dollars as possible going to counseling and classes.

"Marriage promotion is not an anti-poverty strategy," especially when huge needs still exist for child care, education and training, all of which genuinely help mothers find work and escape poverty, Ms. Jones-DeWeever says.

If money has to go to marriage promotion, she said, "I think that we need to think in a more broad way," such as helping people find jobs.

"As we all know," she said, "income stressors are one of the main issues that cause marriages to dissolve. If you improve the economic circumstances of families, as an extension to that, you will be improving marriages."

Another belief is that most mothers on welfare have been in violent relationships and marriage promotion will lead to abusive marriages.

Moreover, many women on welfare are married - but estranged - from their husbands, thus demonstrating that "marriage was not an option that worked for these women," said Diana Spatz, executive director of Low-Income Families' Empowerment through Education, an anti-poverty advocacy group in Oakland, Calif.

Other complaints are that men in low-income communities are not good prospects for marriage, that lesbian welfare mothers will be excluded from pro-marriage activities and that marriage education hasn't been proved to have long-term social benefits.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, which has long championed marriage as a rewarding and permanent way out of poverty, has issued a paper on the "record of success" of marriage-education programs. …

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