Marriage Grants Needed

  • by: Cheryl Wetzstein 01/26/09

Did you swoon over the presidential inauguration? Many observers in the marriage movement did.

It was hard to miss the genuine electricity flowing between President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, especially when they danced at the balls "like the bride and groom on top of the wedding cake," one marriage leader said.

Clearly, the first couple understands the value of marriage. But for weeks, I have been hearing chatter about how the Obama administration and the Democrat-led Congress are going to kill or divert the funds now flowing to hundreds of marriage-education programs.

Many of these programs are aimed at helping couples - especially low-income couples - figure out how to create a stable, secure and faithful relationship, i.e., marriage.

The funding I am referring to is the $150 million-a-year grants for healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood, awarded October 2006. If the grants go their full five years, the outlay would be $750 million.

The rumblings say that Mr. Obama and the Democrats like the funding for fatherhood but not for marriage. (Marriage, according to critics, is a patriarchal institution that enslaves women, leads to domestic violence and/or needlessly privileges some people over others.)

Thus, Congress is rumored to want to pull the plug on the final years of the marriage funds, or divert it to fatherhood programs.

Serious public discussion about these grants probably won't occur until later this year, when the House Ways and Means Committee starts preparing for the 2010 welfare reauthorization.

Meanwhile, Patty Howell, vice president of media relations for the California Healthy Marriages Coalition (CHMC), is happy to set the record straight right now about the merit of marriage education.

"I'm a Democrat," she began, "so I know that marriage education and relationship-skills training totally align with Democrats' values and Democrats' social agenda."

Second, marriage education is a superb cost-effective prevention for social ills.

Substance abuse, poverty, poor school performance, crime and unwed pregnancy - "all of these are costly problems to fix when they've happened," said Ms. Howell. "But if we can empower couples through marriage education and relationship-skills training, we give them the capacity to prevent these problems."

"At this time of severe belt-tightening in our country," she added, "it really makes a lot of sense to take this cost-effective, preventive approach that will teach couples how to form and sustain healthy marriages."

Ms. Howell represents the nation's largest marriage grantee - the CHMC will get nearly $12 million if it gets its full five-year grant - so it's understandable that she is a cheerleader for the cause.

But these marriage grants require evaluations, and early results from the first 14,000 people who have taken eight hours of classes from one of the 23 CHMC coalition members are promising.

"Couples have more satisfaction in their relationships, more confidence in the stability of their relationships, and much better feelings about their partners," said Ms. Howell. Moreover, those results are even stronger six months later.

These grants are "laying a foundation for cultural change," she said. Cutting funding "would be so foolish."