Religion, the Marriage Movement & Marriage Policy
10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Presentation of paper by:
W. Bradford Wilcox, Assistant Professor, University of Virginia and Non-Residential Fellow, The Institute for the Advanced Study of Religion, Yale University
Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services
Theodora Ooms, Senior Policy Analyst, Center for Law and Social Policy
Wendell Primus, Director of Income Security, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Richard Cizik, Vice President for Government Affairs, National Association of Evangelicals
Elenora Giddings-Ivory, Director, Presbyterian Church (USA) Washington Office
Anthony Perkins, Louisiana State Representative (R)
Meg Riley, Director, Unitarian Universalist Association Washington Office
E.J. Dionne, Jr., Senior Fellow, the Brookings Institution and Co-Chair, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
Panel One Transcript
Presentation of paper by:
W. Bradford Wilcox, Assistant Professor, University of Virginia, Non-Residential Fellow, The Institute for the Advanced Study of Religion, Yale University
Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services
Theodora Ooms, Senior Policy Analyst, Center for Law and Social Policy
Wendell Primus, Director Of Income Security, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
E.J. Dionne, Jr., Co-Chair, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
MELISSA ROGERS: My name is Melissa Rogers and I’m the executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The Forum serves as a town hall and a clearinghouse of information on issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs. We seek to serve as a true forum on the issues rather than an advocate and to promote a deeper understanding of the way in which religious understandings shape the ideas and institutions of American society.
We’re supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and we’re very grateful for that support. We are fortunate to have as our co-chairs E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution and a columnist for the Washington Post, and Jean Bethke Elshtain, a professor at the University of Chicago.
Unfortunately, Jean, who is quite an expert in this issue herself, could not be with us today because of scheduling conflicts and does send her regrets. We’re grateful for the partnership of our co-chairs’ home institutions with the Pew Forum – the University of Chicago and the Brookings Institution – and also for Georgetown University, which holds the grant for the Pew Forum and helps us in many ways.
I want to thank each of our speakers for joining us, and to you, also for joining us. We are especially grateful that Dr. Brad Wilcox could join us today and kick off the discussion of this important issue with his draft of “Sacred Vows, Public Purposes: Religion, the Marriage Movement and Marriage Policy.” We’re very appreciative to Brad for his work, and we look forward to publishing his paper along with other views expressed here, including your questions and comments, on our Web site and then in a more formal publication to follow a little later in time.
So thank you very much for being here. I’ll turn it over now to our able moderator, E.J. Dionne.
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you, Melissa, and thanks to Melissa and all the people at the Pew Forum for putting this together. This is a very important issue and those of you who know Jean Elshtain know that I feel a little bit like a journeyman shortstop sitting in for Nomar Garciaparra or Derek Jeter.
I don’t have to say much about the importance of this issue to this room. It’s very important in the debate over welfare reform, which is itself very important to our country. It’s also a very important debate to our culture, and I’m pleased that we have so many thoughtful people here today representing a wide array of views, and I particularly want to thank Brad for being here and for presenting today.
John DiIulio and I had the honor of publishing a very provocative essay that Brad wrote which we published in our book called, “What’s God Got to Do With the American Experiment?” I’ve gotten a lot of wonderful comments from people who were surprised – although I don’t think they should have been – by some of Brad’s findings in that paper.
Brad is a non-resident research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study of Religion at Yale University. His expertise, fortunately for us, includes religion, marriage and parenting. He has published in the American Sociological Review, Social Forces, the Christian Century, and the Responsive Community.
He previously held research fellowships at the Brookings Institution, where he sat right outside my office, and also at Princeton University. We’re very grateful to Brad for his work.
He will be followed by Wade Horn. Just so you know, Wade has to leave at 10:45 for a meeting at the White House. I assume the President asked for an immediate report on the outcome of this discussion – (laughter) – and that’s why Wade is going. I don’t think he needs much of an introduction to this group. He was named assistant secretary for Children and Families on July 30th, 2001. Before his appointment, Dr. Horn was president of the National Fatherhood Initiative. He is the commissioner for Children, Youth and Families and chief of the Children’s Bureau in the Administration on Children, Youth and Families. His list of publications and activities is so long that I won’t detain you, but one of his important works is “The Fatherhood Movement: A Call to Action,” which really was a kind of manifesto for what has become and what is his life’s work.
After Wade, we’re going to hear from Theodora Ooms, who has become very prominent in this discussion over the administration’s marriage initiative. She is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy, where she directs the new Couples and Marriage Policy Resource Center. The policy has a special focus on low-income families. She is also an independent consultant to Governor Keating’s statewide initiative in Oklahoma to strengthen marriage and reduce the divorce rate. Between 1981 and 1999, she was executive director of the Family Impact Seminar, a non-partisan research institute based in Washington, D.C. If I am correct, the divorce rate has actually come down in those years, so that suggests the success of her work – (laughter) – already. It’s very, very good to have her with us.
And lastly, someone I have known and respected for a very, very long time, Wendell Primus. He serves as director of Income Security at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. As the head of this division, he works to expand the Center’s research in many areas, including social security, unemployment insurance, child support enforcement, child welfare, income and poverty trends, and lots of other issues.
At the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Wendell served as the deputy assistant secretary for Human Services Policy, and in this capacity he was responsible for policy development and for the conduct of research and evaluation on issues related to income assistance. He also caused to be spent lots of money on poor people, which is dear to my heart, when he was chief economist at the House Ways and Means Committee and staff director for the committee’s subcommittee on Human Resources.
Wendell also did a very unusual thing in Washington. He actually resigned a job on principle over his disagreements on the welfare reform bill in 1996. That doesn’t happen too often in Washington, and I’ve always honored Wendell for doing that.
Brad, it’s very good to have you, and welcome to you all.
W. BRADFORD WILCOX: Thank you, E.J., and I’d like to thank the Pew Forum for hosting this event, and in particular, Amy Sullivan, for all of her work in making today’s event possible.
Two years ago, Minnesota governor, Jesse Ventura, offered this explanation for his veto of marriage legislation: “Marriage is a private affair and the government should stay out.”
With all due respect to the governor and to the libertarian perspective his comments exemplify, marriage is, in many respects, a public institution that serves public purposes. Marriage is a public institution insofar as it is governed by legal norms at the state and federal levels of government. State law, as you know, is most determinative in this regard, but federal law also influences marriage. A 1996 GAO report found that federal law affects marriage for better and for worse in over a thousand places.
But what, you might ask, uniquely public purposes does marriage serve? Among other things, marriage promotes the common good by fostering a strong, lifelong bond between men and women that confers considerable social, economic and spiritual benefits on any children that they have.
Not surprisingly, recent dramatic departures from the norm of lifelong marriage have had dramatic effects on the welfare of our citizens, especially children. By the time they reach adulthood, approximately 50 percent of the nation’s children will spend some time outside of an intact family. These children are significantly more likely than their peers to experience poverty, psychological problems and child abuse; clearly, then, marriage is not a private affair without public consequence.
But just because marriage serves important public purposes does not necessarily mean that the government should play a central role in fostering the virtues and values that make for strong marriages. Historically, civic institutions, particularly religious ones, have been the primary custodians of marriage.
Indeed, the longstanding ties between religion and marriage lead me to pose three questions in the report: The first is what role has religion played in motivating the growing marriage movement. The second is what role has religious belief, and more generally, explicit moral commitments played in public discourse about marriage. And a third question is what impact might marriage-related legislation have upon religious and other civic approaches to marriage.
I’ll turn first to the first question – the role that religion has played in motivating the growing movement on behalf of marriage. At the national level, religion has played only a modest role in motivating the movement. National leaders in the movement, from Diane Sollee to William Galston to Wade Horn, hail from a range of religious and non-religious backgrounds, not to mention political parties.
But the religious picture at the state and local levels is markedly different. Here, religious conservatives have played a key role in most state and local efforts to promote marriage. Take Louisiana. In Louisiana, the determined advocacy of a Presbyterian lawyer and an evangelical Protestant legislator resulted in the passage of the nation’s first covenant marriage law in 1997.
Katherine Spaht, a professor of law at LSU, credits her work on behalf of covenant marriage to a “calling” she received from God to protect children. She worked with Representative Tony Perkins, an evangelical Protestant, who was also interested in strengthening marriage. Perkins took the outlines of Spaht’s idea to a group of pastors in his district. After consulting with them about the biblical grounds for divorce, he drafted a bill that only allowed for divorce on what they saw as the biblically-licit grounds of adultery and abandonment. He did so knowing that the legislature would expand the grounds for divorce, and it did, but clearly religion played a key role in motivating the actors who initiated the nation’s first covenant marriage law.
The second question is how have religious and moral convictions shaped public discourse on marriage. What’s striking here is the public discourse on marriage has infrequently used religious beliefs to frame or inform discussion of public policy, even though many marriage advocates are motivated by deep religious commitments. For example, to return to Louisiana, Representative Perkins, who is going to be addressing us later today, says he did not reference his Christian convictions when seeking support for the covenant marriage bill.
This leads to a question: Why are public officials reluctant to introduce religious or explicitly moral discourse into public policy discussions regarding marriage? There are several factors that I point to in the paper, but I’ll just name two right here. The first is that political developments in the 1990s — from vocal condemnation of Pat Buchanan’s culture war speech to popular support for President Clinton in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal – convinced many religious conservatives that the U.S. is now a post-Christian society. Thus, politicians are now reluctant to articulate religious reasons for marriage policies for fear of being branded as intolerant members of the religious right, and more importantly, because God talk would only interfere with their efforts to win support from their colleagues.
The second point to make is that the recent cultural turn towards an expansive view of tolerance has left many Americans, including politicians, unwilling to make strong arguments in public settings about moral obligations in areas where there is a lot of disagreement. And indeed, the high prevalence of divorce and out-of-wedlock births makes it particularly difficult for public officials to address the moral dimensions of marriage head on.
But public policy does not occur in a vacuum. Governments necessarily rely upon justifications in determining their course of action. In the matter of marriage, public officials tend to rely on utilitarian rationales and tend to hold out a therapeutic view of marriage as the end to which policies should aim.
Most public discourse on marriage draws heavily on the notion that marriage is an institution that’s useful to the state and the society. For example, Jerry Regier, secretary of Health and Human Services for Oklahoma, justified the state’s ambitious marriage policy in this way: “Some will say the role of government in supporting the institution of marriage should be hand-off. I strongly disagree. All of these state policies commit major portions of their annual expenditures to results of the dissolution of marriage and the breakdown of the family.”
Although utilitarian arguments are used to justify marriage policies, they do not provide much guidance about the nature and kind of marriage that public policy should promote. For this, marriage proponents tend to hold up a largely therapeutic model of marriage. Invariably, politicians and advocates report that they support “healthy marriages.” For instance, George W. Bush’s welfare plan seeks to “promote healthy marriages.”
So what do marriage proponents mean by “healthy” marriages? This adjective signals that a marriage is free of physical abuse and severe conflict. It also suggests that as marriage promotes the emotional well being of spouses through good communication and ample affection. This approach to marriage is attractive in a society that has witnessed the rise of a therapeutic ethos that draws heavily on psychological concepts and techniques. This ethos accords emotional well-being paramount value, tends to substitute psychological terminology for moral language, and privileges communication. This model of marriage is also attractive because it allows marriage advocates to signal that they do not approve of physically abusive marriages, but as you shall see, the ready use of utilitarian and therapeutic approaches to marriage in public policy may have serious, unintended consequences.
The third question that I pose in the report is what effect public policy may have on religious and other civic approaches to marriage. Some of the public efforts now being taken on behalf of marriage represent government attempts to work with civil society in its traditional role as a custodian of marriage. Governors, for instance, in Oklahoma and Arkansas, use the bully pulpit to call clergy to a higher standard of marital preparation and support. In Oklahoma, religious leaders are trained at public expense in marriage skills programs, and the range of state policies promotes civic efforts to provide marital preparation and marital counseling.
Many of these efforts would be strengthened by the Bush plan. In effect, these policies assume that the government can and should play a role in revitalizing civil society so that it is equipped to reclaim its role as the primary custodian of marital virtue and values.
But many of the policies that states are pursuing on behalf of marriage and that the federal government seems poised to advance represent direct government efforts to promote moral reform. From publicly funded media campaigns to marriage curricula in the high schools, the government is advancing normative marriage policies that seek to reform the meaning and practice of marriage. This report documents the ways in which these policies draw on utilitarian and therapeutic understandings of the nature of marriage rather than explicitly moral conceptions of marriage rooted in a religious or secular view of the good life.
These utilitarian and therapeutic approaches to marriage are popular because they seem to offer a way of justifying marriage without touching on religious and moral issues that are sensitive in our deeply pluralistic society. But there are two central problems – one pragmatic and one principled – with recent efforts to use utilitarian and therapeutic approaches to marriage.
The pragmatic problem is that such policies may not work. Public efforts to promote virtue that rely on utilitarian and therapeutic rationales – from jobs programs to character education in public schools – are notoriously unreliable. The primary problem with such efforts is that they cannot muster a moral vision rooted in a rich vision of the good life and grounded in a community committed to that vision. For this reason, government efforts to offer relationship skills may founder. What’s particularly telling in this regard is that research on the long-term success of marriage programs like PREP, which is being used now in Oklahoma and could become a primary model for federal efforts to promote marriage, is mixed. However, a recent evaluation of PREP taught in religious congregations suggests that PREP is significantly more successful when it is presented in light of a specific religious tradition and modeled in a particular religious community. Thus there is a good chance that public efforts to directly promote marital virtue will prove impotent, hampered by their inability to appeal to a binding moral vision of marriage that’s rooted in a community united behind that vision.
The principled problem with normative public policies on behalf of marriage is that they privilege utilitarian and therapeutic visions, visions that crowd out religious conceptions of the good life. Marriage is depicted as an institution that is useful insofar as it promotes a healthy relationship that secures the emotional well being of adult spouses. The religious meanings of marriage – from its connection to procreation to its capacity to engender self-sacrifice, even in the midst of marital unhappiness – are obscured by the expressive focus and therapeutic utilitarian assumptions embodied in most marriage policies.
Take high school marriage courses. As one report recently noted, “even the best of the school-based marriage curricula tend toward a secular, psychological understanding of marriage. Traditional moral teachings about marriage, if they appear at all, often take a back seat. Marriage is presented primarily as a means of self-fulfillment rather than as a moral, social and spiritual good. Religion is largely invisible in most of these curricula.”
The problem here is that when the state tries to reform the practice of marriage, it shies away from addressing the religious and moral dimensions of marriage, and understandably so. But this leaves us with a sobering conclusion: The public purposes served by marriage are best secured when wedding vows are endowed with a sense of sacredness derived from both religious and secular sources. But the paradox of the American experiment and our liberty is that the state is not well suited to directly cultivate the sense of sacredness. Thus, we must ask more of civic society if we seek to secure the public goods guaranteed by virtuous and stable marriages. This is, to say the least, a substantial burden, but if the rise of the marriage movement and civic-oriented public policies are any indication, civil society may yet rise to the challenge.
MR. DIONNE: Wade was smiling because I think this is the first occasion he has had in many years to speak from the left in defense of a therapeutic approach to marriage.
WADE HORN: I want to say first that it’s a pleasure to be here. It’s always a pleasure to be with E.J. I read his column religiously and I apologize in advance for having to leave early. Actually, your statement was not too far incorrect as to where I need to go and what I need to do there.
I’ve been known to have at least a passing interest in the issue of marriage, and so I thought I would come by and share a few reactions to what I thought was an extremely thoughtful and very interesting, provocative paper.
Brad starts with the premise that we have seen, in the march of time, an increasing secularization of society. He’s correct about that, and one manifestation of that is an increasing secularization of our understanding about the institution of marriage.
He then goes on to make two rather interesting points. His first point is that, given the secularization of society and our understanding of the institution of marriage, marriage proponents, particularly at the national level, are increasingly likely to use utilitarian arguments in defense of the institution of marriage. And certainly I have done that in a lot of my public talks: it’s good for children, good for adults, good for communities, and so forth. Brad makes the argument that in doing so, we may in fact be inadvertently weakening the institution of marriage.
And the second point is that concomitant with this is a therapeutic view of how one strengthens marriage, the distinction he draws between a healthy marriage and a godly marriage, as the end result of a more secularized or therapeutic view versus a more faith-based view.
Let me make three points about this paper. First, I think he presents this notion of a utilitarian argument being advanced for the institution of marriage versus a moral or a religiously based argument, as an either/or distinction, and I disagree. I think it’s perfectly possible for someone to be motivated by a personal faith perspective, to be grounded in a religious view about the importance of the institution or understanding of the institution of marriage, while at the same make utilitarian arguments, particularly in the public sphere.
We don’t have to go back too many years, but I’ll go back about 200 and talk about the founding fathers’ vision. Clearly the founding fathers made very many utilitarian arguments about this new form of government that they were creating – this sort of tripartite notion of government, and checks and balances, and all the stuff that they talked about in terms of the importance of protecting private property and so forth – a lot of utilitarian arguments.
At the same time, it’s clear that the founding fathers were deeply rooted in a moral and religious perspective and that much of the utilitarian arguments drew out of that deeply held moral and religious perspective. So, for example, the reason why we have checks and balances in government is not because it was one of 16 different items or options they could choose, but because in their religious tradition, man is inherently sinful and therefore needs checks and balances.
So the first reaction I have is that I don’t think this is really an either/or argument but really, in my view, a both/and discussion. It seems not unreasonable that one can advance both utilitarian arguments for the importance and usefulness of marriage while at the same time advancing an understanding about marriage in a broader religious and moral perspective.
So why, then, don’t I make faith-based arguments? Well, I’m not a pastor; it’s not my job. There are others who are pastors and it is their job to advance that understanding. I am a government official, and hence, the arguments that I advance ought to be arguments that are more on the side of a secular view or a utilitarian view of the institution of marriage.
And this is in fact rooted in religious tradition, at least in Judeo-Christian religious tradition. St. Paul, in Romans 13, said that government is uniquely ordained to do certain things, and those things that it is uniquely ordained to do are different than the work of saints. And I think that, again, the reason why I may be working in the area that I’m working in is grounded in my personal faith perspective, which Brad acknowledges in his paper, but the arguments I make while in the public square ought to be rooted in a broader, more diverse understanding of the institution of marriage and the value of marriage to society.
The third point I want to make is about this notion of therapeutic view of marriage. Brad, to some extent, takes to task the notion of a skills-based view of marriage and healthy marriages. Now I’ve talked a lot in my public speaking about a mission statement for the marriage work that I think we need to do as a nation. It is: To help couples who choose marriage for themselves develop the skills and knowledge necessary to form and sustain healthy marriages. That has some of the components of what Brad talks about — skills, and it talks about healthy marriages, not godly marriages – but the piece that Brad misses in this paper is this notion of knowledge about the institution of marriage. It is not just about developing skills. One can have a whole host of finely honed skills, but if you are not motivated to apply those skills, then whatever the outcome those skills are meant to procure is unlikely to happen. And I think that for someone to have problem-solving skills, negotiation skills, listening skills and so forth, and apply them in this thing we call marriage, it often is helpful – not necessary, but helpful – to have a broader context for understanding of the institution of marriage.
The idea of commitment, for example, in the literature is very important – the commitment to the institution of marriage. The idea of obligation to others and responsibility to others, and from certain faith perspectives, a responsibility to God – that there is a third party in this relationship, not just the two that have entered into a contractual relationship called marriage.
So if this is true, then how does one get to the point where you can help people develop the skills in a broader sense or knowledge about the institution of marriage? My solution is vouchers. I think that one of the ways that we can help those couples who choose marriage for themselves – both those who are already married or those who are moving towards marriage – access a system of services that will teach them not just skills, but this broader context — in a pluralistic society there is broader understanding of marriage – is by providing them with vouchers which they then can use to purchase these kinds of services, whether they are through a secular provider or a faith-based provider, and they can then choose what faith-based perspective they would like to acquire this understanding from.
So in sum, I think this is a very important and very provocative paper. I think it does, however, set up a artificial distinction that you’re either going to view marriage from a secular/utilitarian function or from a faith-based or moral perspective. I think it’s possible to do both, and my particular solution to ensuring that, when it comes down to the local level, a couple who needs help or wants these kinds of services, that by providing vouchers to them they’ll be able to procure the both/and rather than simply the either/or.
MR. DIONNE: See, there are shades of that Bill Clinton false choices idea in Wade Horn’s – (laughter) –
MR. HORN: I almost went there. (Laughter.)
MR. DIONNE: Theodora Ooms, it’s great to have you.
THEODORA OOMS: I’m delighted to be here. This is a really fascinating subject, and I congratulate Melissa and her colleagues for having this meeting.
I have about 15 minutes of comments, and I only have seven minutes to give them, so I’m going to have to talk very fast and maybe every other word, or something like that. (Chuckles.)
I want to thank Wade very much because he made several of the points that I was going to make, so I can skip straightaway to page 4. (Laughter.) I won’t repeat them, and he said them very well.
I did also find it a very thoughtful and interesting, provocative paper, Brad, but some of it I’m not sure I understood. Particularly, I’m left puzzled about what your recommendations are, and that’s probably where I’m going to go with my comments.
But let me start with a little caveat. Since marriage is so new on the public agenda, people are a little surprised when you point out how much is going on in this what’s being called a marriage movement out there, and it is very true that states and communities are doing a lot more than people think, and I can give you a long list. There are some in Brad’s paper, but there are also many other things that are happening, and I’m trying to track what it is happening in the policy and program area and the public and the private sector.
But I just want a word of warning here: let’s not kid ourselves. Although there is a lot going on, many of these efforts are largely symbolic, which by itself is important – people are at least beginning to talk about the M word and say it’s important – and with few exceptions, although change is in the air, there is not a great deal happening on the ground. Only a few states have taken any significant actions, there’s still very few churches offering – I dare say, and I think Brad knows this more – any what I would call comprehensive marriage ministries. There are some wonderful models out there, but not many are doing it. There are very few marriage and relationship services available in the communities. There are lots of curriculum and programs out there, but if you try to find one in your community, you’re going to have a hard time. And importantly – and this is where I’m very interested – most programs for low-income families still focus only on mothers and kids and parenting; very seldom on dads, and only on the relationship between then when it’s really bad, when you think it might be domestic violence, and that’s an area that I think we have to make some major changes in.
So I would say the marriage movement is a little prone to exaggeration. I’m part of it, I’ve done it myself, so let’s be wary. Just because an activity is announced, a law is passed, or churches sign a pledge, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a lot happens afterwards.
I could give you a whole story about what happen to the Louisiana covenant law. It’s the one initiative that has been very carefully evaluated, and because no money was passed in the law, very few people knew about this covenant marriage option, two percent of couples are choosing it, and importantly, the clerks, who are critical to making it work, were not trained or made aware of it. Some of them are actively hostile to it, some of them don’t know about it. So you can’t just pass a law and expect things to change overnight.
The same is true of what’s called the Florida Marriage Preparation and Preservation Act – a very interesting law, had no money attached to it, and so many of the things – and we could talk more about that – that it wanted to happen have not really been happening. So that’s just a sort of caveat.
But to come to my major point, I think, is what can we do, and importantly, I think Brad was implying – but I’m not sure – that what we need to do is have the religious sector work together with government and other sectors to promote and strengthen marriage.
Charitable choice is clearly one vehicle, but to my surprise, I’ve not been able to find out about any churches or groups of churches that have applied for charitable choice funds in order to start strengthening marriage activities, even though, as you know, this is a big, major focus of the TANF law. And I don’t have time right now to speculate about why, but I’d certainly be interested in your ideas about why that is so because it seems like such a natural fit.
As alternatives to using the charitable choice option, however, I want to briefly mention two types of partnerships between the religious sector and other sectors which I think are kind of promising here. First will come from my experience working in greater Grand Rapids, and second, in the state of Oklahoma.
In greater Grand Rapids, they have a community marriage policy which is broader than some other community marriage policies in the sense that they involve several of the sectors as well as the churches in a multi-sector initiative. It’s a very interesting collaboration between the faith sector, if you like, and other sectors. It has five task forces – a judicial, health professional, religious, business, and a special task force of African-American pastors – and they’ve been doing lots of different things.
The first one was to get many of the area churches to sign on to a community marriage policy. Now implementing this agreement is no problem for some of the churches who are large, well endowed, and have the capacity to offer a rich variety of marriage preparation, education, mentor and other services. But smaller churches don’t have that capacity, and I think capacity building is really at the heart of what we’re talking about here. So what has evolved is that the Pinerest Family Center, which is staffed by mental health professionals, offers a regular seminar series for couples based on a secular curriculum, and they call it “Secrets for Successful Marriages.” And pastors from the smaller churches refer their engaged or married couples for this course – these several-weekend courses – and then the understanding is the pastor or the minister can work with the couple to add the religious component, to discuss the spiritual and religious aspects of their marriage. So that’s, to me, a nice kind of partnership.
In a similar way in Oklahoma, it’s also a multi-sector initiative involving public agencies, universities, the media and the religious sector doing lots of different things, but as Brad noted in his paper, 800 faith leaders have signed the marriage covenant, committing themselves to encourage more marriage preparation, enact waiting periods before marriage, develop marriage mentors when they are in their congregation, and so forth. But again, they face the problem of capacity building within the churches to provide these services they’ve committed themselves to.
So what do they do about that? In Oklahoma, using significant TANF dollars, they have decided to offer two types of training, primarily for public agency staff and community members, but this includes lay pastors and lay members of the congregation. They are offering training in PREP, which was mentioned, and a day-and-a-half training in people who meet with families and can refer them to these workshops, so they’re going to eventually be offered throughout the state.
Around 50 members of the faith community have so far been trained as PREP leaders, and now the 100 or so have been trained in how to make referrals, and another hundred or so have had some initial training in becoming marriage mentors. Now this is important, but it’s still a drop in the bucket, I would say. But it’s an interesting model.
Oklahoma – this is a start. It has a long way to go before it can see any concrete results, but I think what is interesting is that capacity building is being funded by government monies, but the churches don’t have to receive any money directly from the government, avoiding some of the problems that are involved in getting money through charitable choice.
So I want to end by underscoring how important it is, I think, to ground all these conversations about to strengthen marriage in reality because from my experiences consulting in these different places, the devil is really in the details. Enacting a law, as I said, and signing agreement is only the first step. It takes weeks and months of orientation, education, planning and training before an agency, a community, or an individual church is able to implement new activities to support and strengthen marriage.
They’ve been finding this in Washington State, where they’ve had to give a lot of technical assistance to churches, pointing out that a church is a bureaucracy that has a lot of difficulty changing itself, and believe you me, focusing on marriage implies a major change in how we think and go about doing things, and to become a truly marriage-friendly church, it takes a lot of work and effort.
And in my work in Oklahoma, I found that when you talk with people initially – because this is so new and sensitive -there is a lot of confusion, concern and considerable resistance, and you have to take time and plan your initiative to listen to them, talk with them, modify their concerns, change your plans, build working relationships with the domestic violence community as well as others whose support and resources you need. But before long, people really do get on board this agenda and enthusiastically start thinking about what they can do in their work of life to help support it, and try to make this a more marriage-friendly culture, and get people the help they need to achieve what they want, which for most of them is a long, happy, healthy and maybe spiritually based marriage.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you so much.
Wendell, could I ask you to hold just half a second? Before we lose Wade – and he’s going to have to go pretty quickly – does anybody have a brief provocative or non-provocative question they would like to put to him in light of his comments?
Right over here.
Q: I’m Mike McManus. I’m president of Marriage Savers. I’m interested in the suggestion made by Theodora that perhaps we need to find a way to package TANF funds to help churches do this work in the states. Are you doing anything to try to facilitate that?
MR. HORN: Well, under current law, states have enormous flexibility under TANF block grant to use those funds for any purpose of the TANF program, and so if the state – and some states have – decides to use those funds in service of the stated purpose in TANF to increase marriage, they certainly have the latitude now to do that.
Q: But can a group of churches in a community – let’s say, Brooklyn – petition the TANF director of New York State to fund this work?
MR. HORN: They certainly could petition him to fund that work, sure. The TANF program is governed by charitable choice, and depending on how the money gets to the churches, there may or may not be limitations on what it is the church can do in that context. So, for example, if there is a direct contractor relationship or grant relationship between the state agency and a church, under charitable choice, you don’t have to secularize the environment, but you can’t use the money to proselytize. So I think, in fact, this would be Brad’s argument that if, in fact, a very important component of marriage is an understanding of the sort of religious context of marriage, not just the skills inherent in marriage that make marriages good marriages, that by doing a direct contractor or grant relationship with the state agency, you would have to secularize some of what you do, which is why, you know, vouchers is something that also is another options that states have so that you can deliver the voucher to the individual and then they can take that and shop it to a church.
Thank God for vouchers. Conservatives would be lost unless we didn’t have vouchers as the answer to everything. The left has “tax the rich,” and that’s their answer, and ours is vouchers. (Laughter.)
MR. DIONNE: You know, if you’d endorse “tax the rich,” we could actually get somewhere on this issue. (Laughter.)
By the way, is the voucher component formally in the Bush plan, or do you just envision this as being put in by the states. How does your legislation read on that issue?
MR. HORN: No, it’s silent on that issue, and it’s purposely silent. The idea is to spur innovation in a variety of different ways and not to artificially limit the kind of thinking that states and communities might do about how they would develop programs to encourage healthy marriages and family formation. So a community or a state could come in and propose a voucher program. They could also come in and propose some other kind of program. We purposely are silent on it because we don’t want to dictate the model that then states will use or communities will use. I do agree that although we have some knowledge, we don’t have perfect knowledge in this area, and so therefore we don’t want to constrain artificially states or communities in terms of what they think they might want to do in these areas.
Q: I think that all religious leaders should be appalled that TANF money has been going for these work programs for religious counselors and not directly to needy families. TANF is needy families, and indeed, when kids are lined up and there is no daycare, and these moms aren’t even marriageable and we aren’t working on programs to help them be marriageable, to put this as another program, and so I think that there are so few resources, and I wonder why we think this is a good use of our resources rather than really helping these poor families – temporary assistance to them, and find another place for some of these other programs rather than in a direct welfare program.
MR. DIONNE: Would you mind identifying yourself?
Q: Certainly. I’m Pat Russo and I’m with the National Organization for Women.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you.
MR. HORN: Okay, well, now I’ll make a utilitarian argument. (Laughter.)
We’ve been very careful in the construction of our marriage initiative not to suggest that the end result is simply to move marriage rates because one can move marriage rates and have lots of bad marriages – and bad marriages are bad for kids; good marriages are good for kids.
What we’re trying to be clear about is that there are a certain percentage of kids that are going to be growing up in two-parent, married households. That’s sort of a given. It’s greater than zero and it’s less than 100 percent, but it’s some number. And within that number of kids who are growing up in two-parent households, some of those marriages are good marriages and some of those marriages are bad marriages. All of the literature suggests that bad marriages are bad for kids and good marriages are good for kids.
When one focuses on the well being of children, whatever that universe is of kids that are growing up in married households, we’re trying to increase the percentage that are actually in healthy married household as opposed to dysfunctional married households. We don’t conceptualize this as something that is taking away from other kinds of work supports. Our marriage proposal represents less than 2 percent of the total money that would be available in the Bush administration’s proposal when it comes to welfare – less than 2 percent.
Now one could argue that should be zero percent, in which case, you know – people are entitled to their opinion. We think it should be greater than zero, but we don’t think it should be 50 percent. We think it should be a relatively small percentage at this point to spur innovation. But the goal is a utilitarian goal, from our perspective, which is to try to improve things for kids. So we want to have less kids in married households where there is violence, where there is acrimony, where the parents are at war with each other, and more kids in households where the parents love, nurture, respect and support each other, and do the same thing for their children.
In some ways it’s very similar to me to, you know, parenting education. Why should government be in parenting education? Because we think that education and skills – people aren’t born good parents or bad parents – and that we can teach a certain set of skills to help people be better parents, and being a better parent is good for kids. Bad parents are bad for kids; good parents are good for kids.
And so one could argue that the relationship between a parent and a child is a very special, intimate one, and therefore, government should not be involved, but we don’t seem to have the same level of sort of controversy about that, and so long as – and in the way we’ve structured it – access to parenting education or marriage education is voluntary and it’s in service of this goal of improving things for kids by teaching a certain set of skills, it seems to us it ought to be relatively non-controversial. Obviously I’m not completely correct about that assertion and the great thing about our country is we get to disagree.
And another great thing about this country is I’ve got to leave. (Laughter.)
E.J. DIONNE, JR.: Wade, thank you very, very much.
WENDELL PRIMUS: It’s good to be here. Thank you, E.J.
Actually, I might disappoint you a bit. I find this debate very curious in some sense. The conservatives that I have grown to love basically hate government and they hate to spend money. And here they’re violating those general principles because they believe that the federal government, the government they hate the worst relative to local and state, should be involved in this debate. And I think it also raises some interesting questions about whether other institutions in our civil society have failed. Are they really saying religion has failed to produce these life-long bonds between people and therefore government should step in?
I guess I’m going to come at this from a children’s perspective and end up at a little different place than I think Brad did. I think government has a clear role in protecting children, and I think in that context it needs to be concerned about marriage. Now, I believe it would have to be concerned about all children, whether those are born out of wedlock or inside the bonds of marriage. I’m going to correct Brad’s paper on this one issue of marriage penalties where he says that welfare law has marriage penalties built into it. I think it doesn’t. In fact, for the most part – there are a few exceptions – TANF law in most states, Medicaid law, food stamp law treats two couples with the same income, the same number of children equally.
So there really isn’t a marriage penalty in our welfare law. Now, there are some marriage penalties in our tax law, but if you believe in treating equals equally and unequals unequally, horizontal and vertical equity, and you believe in progressive taxation, then by definition you’re going to have some marriage penalties. And I think that part of this deserves a little more discussion. I think Social Security law also favors moms, to some extent, that stay at home. So you could argue more about Social Security law and tax law than you can about welfare law. Now, it is true that if a woman marries a stepfather there are true marriage penalties, and you can argue about stepparent deeming.
So, when I say there are no marriage penalties, in my first example, I was talking about a couple who are both the biological parents of those children. The situation is different with respect to stepparents, and then I think there’s a whole issue of how much government should be involved in promoting the marriage of stepparents. I think it’s a debatable proposition.
What should government do? And I want to come back to the question that you raised, and that is, if you really believe in marriage, this ought to have nothing to do with welfare law. I mean, why are we talking about this in a TANF perspective? Yes, it is true that there are more prevalence of low-income children that aren’t living in two-parent families, but you go to any community in our country — black, white or Hispanic, high-income, low-income — and you look at a high school graduating class and observe the percentage of that high school graduating class that is living with both married biological parents. And in most cases, I bet that number is less than 50 percent.
So it seems to me then that this issue of promoting marriage or strengthening families really ought not to have a lot to do with our welfare reauthorization debate. And I would argue that if we’re about supporting marriage and strengthening marriage, we’ve got to be beyond this marriage skill building. I think that’s a very narrow focus in terms of what government can or can’t do. And I would argue that if we as a society are for supporting marriage and strengthening families, we would have basically a five-point program relative to what the administration has suggested:
One, a safety net that does not discriminate against two-parent families and ensures that more two-parent families who are eligible for benefits receive them. In other words, you can go to any database and look at the percentage of two-parent families and there has been a cultural bias against them. I’m not saying we should support them more at the expense of single parents, but their participation rates in these programs are substantially lower. And yes, there are some remnants, if you will, of the TANF program that does discriminate against two-parent families, both married and unmarried — the 100-hour rule – and I would argue we ought to mandate that that state gets rid of those what I’ll call extra-eligibility conditions.
I think we should have a strong child support enforcement that increases the financial well being of children. And I would also go one step further and argue that our child support program, which was born out of a welfare cost recovery system – that’s when it was instituted in 1975 – also ought to have nothing to do with welfare. I mean, every child, it seems to me, who is not living with their parents maybe needs to receive the benefits financially and emotionally from those absent parents. And again, this system should not be tied to welfare.
I’ll second what Theo said. We need programs to help low-income fathers meet their financial and parenting responsibilities. In fact, I can argue that if we spent more money in helping young men become marriageable — I think it’s one of the prime reasons our marriage rate among low-income communities has fallen. And this should be done with new resources. And so, it’s kind of ironic to me that this administration, who believes strongly in marriage and takes $300 million in the TANF pot to help that, at the same time is cutting Department of Labor funds to help train unemployed, including a lot of these low-income men.
I think the fourth component would be initiatives that further decrease teen pregnancy. In other words, in a perfect world, yes, we first have children grow up into mature and financially independent adults, then there would come love, marriage, sex and children, in that order. (Laughter.) Now, that is a perfect world, but it doesn’t happen very often that way. But anything we can do that would decrease teen pregnancies, delay teen pregnancies until individuals are mature or more financially independent, I think would help. And I think we need a research agenda that looks at all of these things that I’ve talked about, including the marriage skill proposals that the administration has put on the table, to develop a knowledge base. Again, my argument is we should have a much broader agenda than the pretty narrow agenda of this administration.
With that, thank you very much.
MR. DIONNE: I’m sorry to disappoint you, Wendell, but you didn’t disappoint at all. Thank you very, very much.
Who wants to jump in now? I guess I’d like to just throw back at Wendell, why hasn’t this discussion of marriage broadened to those most basic issues: how you help low-income men achieve the kind of independence that would make them more marriageable? What do you think is the political block, because at least to my ears, none of the things you said raise sort of issues in the cultural argument. They’re mostly about, if you were serious about this you might be willing to spend some money. Why do you think this agenda is so distant from what we’re actually talking about?
MR. PRIMUS: I think it’s an issue of resources. I mean, the feminist movement, or NOW, argues quite strongly that, again, in a world where we’re not increasing resources, the mothers, after all, are taking care of the children. They are facing the time limit and therefore their needs need to be met because the families are going to get kicked off of welfare. That’s a pretty compelling argument.
On the other hand, I think the issue about two-parent families, the issues about young men and them also taking care of their responsibilities, it’s money. And conservatives do not like to spend money, and so we have a huge resource constraint. I think there are lots of members of the National Organization of Women that believe we need to spend some money on men, but it’s a resource question.
MR. MCMANUS: As I understand it, there is a surplus – at least there was the last count – of $8 billion of TANF funds that haven’t been spent by the states that could be spent on things like job training and daycare and the various other items on your agenda; what you’d like to see this money spent on.
The states have total freedom to spend that TANF money. Just take New York State, for example. Its surplus of funds that have not been used is $750 million. The federal government, when it passed the 1996 welfare reform law, said, we’re going to keep the federal share of welfare constant even as you drop your welfare rolls. Welfare rolls in New York state have come down 60 percent, so that extra money can be used for such things as daycare, and there’s a lot of money there that could be used for this. What’s being talked about here is $300 million, a tiny percentage of the $8 billion that’s available in TANF already.
MR. DIONNE: Go ahead, Wendell.
MR. PRIMUS: Well, let me respond to that. One is that the surpluses are diminished. The last year for which we have spending data, states spent almost $2 billion more in federal TANF – $1.5 billion to $2 billion more. So, they’re shrinking.
The states had a obligation to have some reserve fund because they had to save for a rainy day, basically. I mean, recessions do increase welfare rolls. And right now we’re seeing TANF programs being cut because some of the states have over-committed. West Virginia is probably the prime example.
The $8 billion, relative to the $28 billion a year resources that are in TANF over five or six years is a pretty small sum, and they ought to have a bit of a reserve. If you believe in Marriage Savers, which you obviously do, why should we have this debate in the welfare context? Why shouldn’t it be outside?
MS. OOMS: I’m not going to get into this argument about exactly whether it should be $300 million or whatever, but I think, even though I’m very interested in the marriage initiative – I’m making my living out of studying it, watching it, and in some sense trying to help it – I do think we have to be careful that this is very early days in a very new policy area. And I try to think about what it was like 20 years ago or 15 years ago when we first started talking about welfare mothers going to work. We didn’t have a national program. We started waiver demonstration programs, and we studied them and we debated them and we tried to find out how it would work.
Similarly, with teen pregnancy prevention, we started small. The problem was huge but we didn’t know how to go about it. We didn’t know whether we could, in fact, help teenagers not get pregnant. So we started relatively small and we studied and learned how to do it. I think also the public isn’t really ready for a lot of money to be spent on this. They have a lot of the questions that we’ve heard here. It’s sort of uneasy yet with the whole government role in this issue. So, I think we have to move forward, but I think we have to do it incrementally.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you.
This lady, and if you could identify yourself, please.
Q: Sharon Cass, Social Resource Innovations.
I’d just like to suggest a couple of topics for future consideration. One, the possibility that intervening in the prepubescent part of the lifecycle, around 10 years old, might be more promising than later. And also, that there be more discussion about paternalism, both by government and non-governmental bodies, because that’s a very sticky one. But I don’t think there’s any way of getting around that people who need help are not always going to volunteer to find it or receive it if it’s offered.
MR. DIONNE: Could you elaborate a bit on what you mean on your paternalism point?
Q: Well, paternalism – my understanding is that it means the question of a civil society allowing someone to offer what their conception is of help to people who don’t want it and don’t consciously consent to have it on those terms.
MR. DIONNE: Brad, do you want to talk about that? And you might also use this to answer some of the things that have already been said. And, Theodora, I’d be interested on your comments on the paternalism issue as well.
MR. WILCOX: Thank you, E.J. I don’t have a lot to say on that particular question, but she also mentioned the whole issue of starting at an earlier age. And this brings up the whole issue once again of education and relationship skills.
I just want to make the point that we know that certain types of behaviors are associated with both marriage formation and with higher levels of marital quality; things like men having access to good jobs and earning a decent income, and also things like men and women being affectionate in their relationships, and the like. I mean, this isn’t rocket science.
But the question is whether or not government can do a good job of promoting the virtues attendant to things like work and marriage. And on the left we see people are calling for things like jobs programs in regard to this issue; on the right we see more often people calling for government-funded relationship skills programs. In both cases, it’s not clear to me whether government agencies have the kind of moral capacity and the social capacity for some kind of community context that allows them to be successful in this area. There’s a lot of mixed results in the evaluations of jobs programs and also, as I said, in relationship skills programs.
Just two other points from the earlier discussion. In terms of Wade’s comments, the aim of my paper is not to talk about godly marriages so much as it talks about good marriages. And what’s striking here is that even people like William Galston, who is a noted Democrat, has used moral language in talking about marriage. And he’s really one of the few people who talks in a moral way about this issue. So it’s not a question of being a Christian or Republican, it’s a question of trying to bring a moral dimension to supplement both utilitarian and therapeutic approaches.
And then finally, just a brief note. Wendell had mentioned the whole issue of penalties. And my understanding in that regard is shaped by Gene Steuerle at the Urban Institute, who’s talked about the penalties in real income that low-income couples face when they either couple or marry. So I have to just say I’m relying upon Gene Steuerle’s research which suggests that there is a penalty in terms of real income for couples who marry. I think everyone would agree across the local spectrum that this is unconscionable and that both the states and the federal government need to do more to make sure that there are no financial penalties, particularly at the lower end of the income ladder for couples who decide to marry.
MR. DIONNE: Brad, could I ask you before Theodora jumps in – and Wendell may want to reply on the penalty issue — some of what you said suggests that you are a critic of the Bush proposal from a more traditionalist perspective. Is that a fair reading of what you’re saying? In other words, it seems that you are saying that precisely because this has to be therapeutic it may actually not be effective. Could you talk a little more concretely about how what you said relates to what’s on the table from the administration?
MR. WILCOX: I would say that one of my aims in the report is to argue that the government doesn’t do a very good job of directly promoting virtue, whether it’s in work or in marriage. We as a society and as a nation have traditionally relied upon a civil society, and I think that’s what we should continue to do. But obviously civil society has fallen short in this area, and we need to think about ways in which to promote better and smarter civic efforts on behalf of marriage.
The problem that I think the government has in addressing questions like this is that because of the pluralistic character of our country, it is understandably reluctant to rely on programs that make strong moral and/or religious claims about behavior and the nature of marriage or other things. So therefore it often tends to rely upon other strategies; that is, it says in the report, utilitarian or therapeutic. And this is, as I said, very clearly in evidence in a lot of the high school curricula in our public schools that are designed to promote marriage. And I think, ironically enough, these programs are probably not going to work because most people are not going to stick it out when the going gets tough just because they think they’ll feel better in the long run.
And secondarily, the other point to make is that the founders, including people like James Madison, worried about explicit governmental efforts to promote virtue because they thought these efforts might crowd out religious conceptions of the good life. And it’s clearly the case in, for instance again, these high school curricula, that they are crowding out religious or other secular conceptions of what marriage should be about. And I think this is evidence of the danger of government directly involving itself in an issue like this.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you.
Before I turn to Theodora and Wendell, since we’ve got just a couple more minutes for this panel, is there anyone else who wants to jump into this discussion? And then I’ll let everybody close, if that’s okay with you guys.
Q: This is directed to Theodora. I’ve read a lot of your Marriage Plus material, which talks about making sure that any marriage program that’s put into place recognizes the particular circumstances and needs of low-income families. And recently I heard a comment that the Minnesota Family Investment Program would not qualify under the Bush administration’s marriage proposal. And I’m just curious to hear your thoughts about that. What do you think that impact would have on programs that are designed to help low-income families?
Q: I’m Scott Danielson, Virginia Commonwealth University. Brad, you’ve reduced the argument to utilitarianism, but it seems to me that the argument that Wade is making is not really utilitarianism in the classic sense of utilitarianism; it is consequentialist. That is, it’s a means to an end pattern of reasoning. But in addition to being utilitarian, at least in the classical sense, and the sense that carries the pejorative connotation that is evoked when you speak, is it has to be maximizing pleasure and/or pain, whereas the values that Wade is talking about are character development for youth. There are a number of moral values that are involved, so there are moral-maximizing units that are involved in the argument.
So, my observation here would be that his argument is not utilitarian in the classical sense of what we understand utilitarianism.
MR. DIONNE: That’s great.
Let’s go to Theodora, who can deal with the lady’s thoughtful question, and also paternalism and anything else you want.
MS. OOMS: A couple of things. Firstly, I want to underscore what Scott has just said. I do think programs that teach commitment, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, loyalty – those are not utilitarian in my view; those are moral values. So, that’s a fundamental disagreement I have with you.
The Republican bill on the table right now puts out $300 million for competitive grants to states, but it has actually narrowed, I think, what the Bush administration was suggesting that money could be used on. And it gives a list of about eight kinds of activities that focus totally on marriage, not even out of reducing out-of-wedlock childbearing, and they are more of the marriage education variety. And it would mean you couldn’t use that $300 million on an MFIP [The Minnesota Family Investment Program] program, or other kinds of programs.
And many of us wish there was more flexibility in that. The argument might be you can use other TANF monies to do MFIP and nobody is spending money at the moment on these other kinds of things, but I think there should be more flexibility to be innovative.
MFIP was a demonstration welfare-to-work program that gave additional monies to welfare recipients who went to work – this is shorthand – and it found indirectly that marriages were more stable and more unwed mothers got married. So a lot of people are very interested in that program; could we replicate it? What it’s saying is that some people are single parents because they’re poor, not that they become poor because they’re single parents. In other words, economics does have a lot to do with it.
And the only other comment I wanted to make was that I actually agree with Wendell that we need to have a broad range of strategies to address this issue of the decline in marriage, not just the skills. Skills is important; it’s new, it’s kind of sexy, people are excited about it. I’m interested in it. I wish I’d had them when I was earlier first married, et cetera, et cetera. But I think if you think about the decline in marriage, the reasons that this behavior has changed so dramatically are very complicated. They have to do with economics, they have to do with politics, they have to do with technological changes, birth control, they have to do with the feminist revolution, which most of us wouldn’t want to undo. And skills is part of it, and we can argue we need to learn skills which we didn’t need to learn 30 years ago.
But I think we have to have lots of different strategies. And coming back to my original point, we have to have lots of different sectors involved in this.
MR. PRIMUS: I guess I’m going to echo what Theo just said. I agree with Brad that I think, again, a focus just on marriage skills is not likely to be successful, but when that is combined with some of the economics, some of the disincentive for men to pay child support, for example, possibly providing an earning supplement to the dad’s side of the equation as well as the mom’s side, I think all of those things in combination, and job training programs by themselves aren’t probably a magic bullet either.
So I think we need a more comprehensive approach to both, on the male responsibility side, and if we want strong families I think it has to be a comprehensive approach.
The final footnote on your marriage penalty — I’ll send you a paper I’ve done –you’re right when it comes to stepparents. And the final thing is, yes, there’s an income effect when a mother marries a dad earning $10,000, yes, the family loses a lot of stuff, but that’s no different than the mother all of a sudden getting a pay raise or working more hours. She would lose the same stuff. So if you look again at a couple, married or unmarried, and look at how the welfare system treats that, it doesn’t differ except in the case of stepparents. That’s where it really makes a big difference. So it’s complicated.
MS. OOMS: Can I just make one comment on paternalism?
MR. DIONNE: Yes.
MS. OOMS: I think I know what you mean. Firstly, most of this marriage activity is voluntary, for the most part, and Wade emphasized that. Nobody is forcing people to get married, et cetera, et cetera.
Secondly, I think what’s interesting is most people get very interested in getting help with this issue. You start talking to parents – low-income parents — their relationships with their partners is something that’s very much on their mind and they would like them to be better. They would like to get rid of the disincentives. They would like their partner to get a better job. Once we put it out on the table, I don’t thing it’s really a paternalistic agenda. This is what people really want, for the most part. There are exceptions, and we don’t want to say everybody wants this.
I don’t know if that addresses it, but do you have any thoughts on it?
MR. WILCOX: I did want to, now that I think about it, respond to Scott’s points about this language of utilitarianism. I’m not using it in a sort of classical notion of the word, and maybe a better word would be consequentialism. And I want to be clear that I’m obviously not against things like commitment.
What I find though in some marriage preparation programs, and this is what concerns me, is that things like commitment, which I think is very important for a successful marriage, are justified to the couple by saying to them something like, you know, well, if you want to be happy and healthy it will help your marriage if you’re committed. Or, in the case of PREP, its primary guidebook talks about the value for the marriage of being spiritually involved. And this I think is problematic insofar as it’s making things like commitment or religious practice instrumental to having a healthy marriage. And ironically, I don’t think taking an instrumental approach to things like commitment or to religious practice are going to ultimately end up being of any value for promoting strong and stable marriages.
MR. DIONNE: Can I just say one thing on paternalism, which is I think public programs promote values and virtues, sometimes explicitly but often accidentally or as a side effect, and that to talk explicitly about this, about whether we want public programs to promote a certain kind of family structure, a certain kind of family structure better for kids, then we are going to have a huge debate on that, which is partly why we’re having these sessions.
But I think there is, as it were, a virtue in being explicit about, do you want a particular outcome out of the spending of this public money or out of a particular more broad benefit program? And that’s where I think some of this marriage debate came from, wherever you stand on it.
Wendell, do you want to say something?
MR. PRIMUS: I just want to say one thing. Having worked for the Ways and Means Committee, it was clear that before you ask a taxpayer to take care of children, you’re going to ask the parents to take responsibility for those children. And once a man and a woman have brought a child into the world, I think the federal government, the state government believes it can do certain things so that if the parents are evading their responsibilities they should be required to do certain things. And, you know, you can call that paternalism, but I think that’s what our society wants, and I think also to send a strong signal to young males and young females that child-rearing a very important responsibility, and we as a society are going to demand certain things if that event occurs.
MR. DIONNE: I want to thank Brad for a paper which was repeatedly described as provocative, and it clearly provoked a great discussion. Thank you very, very much.
We’re going to take a brief break. Get up and stretch, have some coffee, and then we’ll be back. And please give our panel some applause. Thank you. (Applause.)
(End of Panel One.)
Panel Two Transcript
Richard Cizik, Vice President for Government Affairs, National Association of Evangelicals
Elenora Giddings Ivory, Director, Presbyterian Church (USA), Washington Office
Anthony Perkins, Louisiana State Representative (R)
Meg Riley, Director, Unitarian Universalist Association, Washington Office
E.J. Dionne, Jr., Co-Chair, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
MR. DIONNE: Our second panel is a response to this issue from a number of religious perspectives, and also, importantly, from someone who has been very involved in this issue at the grassroots and in politics. We’re going to have Anthony Perkins kick-off this second round. He is in his second term in the Louisiana House of Representatives. In an effort to address this marriage issue, Representative Perkins authored and passed this nation’s first covenant marriage law in the 1997 session. And this message, as you all know, has become a very important one around the country. Just to give you a sense, he’s talked about this on “Good Morning America,” “CBS Morning Show,” “The Today Show,” “Dateline,” “NPR’s Morning Edition,” and many other places. So we’re glad he fit in time in his busy schedule to be with us to talk about it today. It’s an honor to have him.
Then we’re going to hear from Elenora Giddings Ivory. She currently serves as the director of the Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church, USA. She works at the denomination’s Public Policy Information and Advocacy Office. Her responsibilities include many things, including civil rights and issues involving religious liberty. She’s on the board of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and is on taskforces of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Reverend Ivory has served as chair of the National Ministries Unit of the National Council of Churches of Christ as vice president of the Council. Thank you very, very much for being with us.
Rich Cizik is the Vice President for Governmental Affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals. He edits the NAE’s “Washington Insight.” He directs the Washington Insight Briefing and Federal Seminar programs, sets overall policy direction for the group before Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court, and often serves as a national spokesperson on issues of concern to evangelicals. Reverend Cizik has been involved in international religious liberty causes since 1980 when he urged policymakers to add religion to the Annual Human Rights Report. He received his MA from George Washington University, School of Public Affairs, and he also has an M.Div from Denver Seminary.
And finally, last but certainly not least, is Meg Riley. She directs the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Washington Office for Faith in Action, and she serves as a minister associated with also the Church Unitarian in Washington, D.C. The Washington Office for Faith in Action represents the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations before the Congress and to the administration. She does for the Unitarians what Rich does for the evangelicals. Faith in Action works on both urgent policy matters and long-term goals by participating in religious and secular coalitions. She’s co-chair of Equal Partners in Faith and serves on the national boards of the Interfaith Alliance, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and also Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
We’re very, very honored to have all of you with us. And, Representative Perkins, we’re very happy to hear from you.
REP. ANTHONY PERKINS (R-LA): Thank you, E.J.
I haven’t been to Washington a lot, but I’ve been here enough to know that when you’re a conservative and you come to Washington you’re supposed to be against it. It doesn’t matter what it is, you’re supposed to be against it. (Laughter.) And I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not going to speak critical of the paper. I actually find it very good. I find that there are some very legitimate concerns raised in it, and I think it’s a very good assessment of where we’re at.
Having said that, I’ll just address a few points that I think stuck out for me. One, going to the discussion of morality versus utilitarianism, again not using the classical definition of the word, but I think morality has a utilitarian outcome. I think we can make arguments from a moral standpoint or we can make it from a utilitarian standpoint. And America has grown into a much more secular society. And from a public policy standpoint, moral arguments no longer carry the day, but utilitarian arguments do.
Now, what does that say about religion? I don’t know, but I know it does enable us to pass legislation that will be beneficial to the families and children that we’re elected to work for and help improve the environment. Now, does that mean that the moral arguments have no basis? No, I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think that government, number one, has no business to promote religion and I do not advocate as such. I do believe government has a role, though, to protect religion, and I don’t think many would argue with that.
In Brad’s paper, he mentions, and very clearly talks about, the absence of moral arguments in the public square. No question that that no longer is a prevalent factor. Why is that? Well, I think that some of those arguments or explanations are brought forth in the paper. I think it’s a very complicated issue, but I think you can trace it back to what you would call the religious right. I’ve never been able to get a good definition of that, I just know it’s out there.
And what does that mean? Well, you know, I’m not real sure what it means, but I know that it’s bad, at least the way people respond to it. (Scattered laughter.) So, do you want to make a point and do you want to pontificate and make a scene? You can bring forth those moral arguments. If you want to make a difference, you work from the same basis but you use a utilitarian approach to it in the sense that Brad defined in his paper.
Does that mean that those of us who are in politics that have religious convictions, that they have no bearing on what we do? I don’t think that’s the case. I think that everyone brings a worldview to public policy. What’s it motivated by? Different things. I come to public office with a servant-type perspective that comes deeply from my faith, and I think that’s good. Does that mean that I’m supposed to check my religion at the door? I don’t think anyone would say that I should, nor that I could. I think that would be dishonest to say that we could check our moral background at the door when we go into public policy issues.
Now, I will say this: I also agree with Brad very firmly on his issue about educational programs, and the debate that was kind of skirted on paternalism. I really don’t like government doing too much. So, there I am in my conservative role. But, specifically, on this issue I do not think it’s a federal issue. Now, some of the policies that are being pushed that encourage the civil society, the church and other institutions to do more, I’m in agreement with them. I’m okay with that. I have problems if it goes beyond that. And in particular, I’m not even comfortable on the state level with state-sponsored educational programs. I just don’t think, as was pointed out in the paper, that the state has the moral anchor to teach those types of programs. I think what the state should be doing is encouraging, number one, individuals to seek that type of guidance; and number two, encouraging the religious community and the society to provide it.
And this effort on my behalf comes out of kind of personal experience. I have four children all under the age of 10. When my wife and I were first married, I was in the Marine Corps; I was an enlisted man. And I’ll tell you, the Marine Corps is not a very family-oriented environment. Those of my friends who were married, most of them were divorced by the time they got out of the Marine Corps. And my wife and I went through some very difficult times in the first year of our marriage. However, having a religious background, when we were on the rocks we decided to get counseling, which was very effective for us and worked. Unfortunately, there are many today that don’t have the reinforcement of family to encourage them to take that step. And in some cases, it is good to foster that type of environment.
Well, what we did in Louisiana with covenant marriage was, number one, it’s a choice. We’re not forcing anybody to do anything. And there is a recognition today among young people that marriage is a very risky business and that there’s a good chance that they’re not going to come out of it in good shape. That’s why I think a lot are delaying, or simply not marrying and cohabitating, which makes a bad situation for children. So what could we do to encourage it? I know the numbers are small, and Theodora pointed out that there is hostility actually from government entities in the state, but it is working to a small degree. How successful it will be only time will tell, but I do believe it’s been successful in creating a discussion nationally about marriage reforms and policies on the state level.
And I’ll say this: money is a factor from a state perspective. We’re struggling to find money. So money is a factor, but money is not the only factor in a successful marriage or in a good environment for children. You can give all the money you want, but if they don’t have two parents or a parent that is concerned about them and their future, all the money in the world is not going to make a difference there. So it goes beyond whether or not we just allocate money for the environment to improve the environment for the children.
And finally, I’ll just close with this – I mean, I’m not a long-winded politician — do laws promote morality or do they reflect morality? And I think there’s some, you know, question there. Do laws that we pass promote morality; do they set a standard or do they reflect the standard that’s in place? And I think they actually do a little bit of both. And I think on the issue of marriage, that’s kind of where we’re at, I think, from a state perspective, is in many ways they reflect the standard, they reflect the public morality, but at the same time trying to incrementally increase the awareness of the importance of marriage.
I think, from a state legislator’s perspective, the best way for us to do that is to encourage the institutions that surround family and community – churches, civic organizations – to perform. I really have to lay a lot of the problem at the feet of the organized church. I think that they have not done a good job in addressing the issue of marriage and family. And Louisiana is a good example. We only have 2 percent of couples choosing covenant marriage, and we didn’t spend a single dollar from the state, and we didn’t want to. I don’t think it’s the state’s business necessarily. But when 80 percent of people in Louisiana get married in churches, where are the clergy that are encouraging them to take a more secure route? I can’t make them do that; don’t want to make them do that. What covenant marriage has done is to encourage or give tools to the church and the community as a whole. That’s why I think what Mike McManus is doing with Marriage Savers in their community marriage policies are good. I think the answers oftentimes are better and serve a longer-term purpose when they come from the community as opposed to when they come down from government.
I will close with this, though: it does have value. I was talking to a pastor a while back who, because of the covenant marriage law, did a month-long series on marriage in his church. And at the end of that, part of our provision in covenant marriage is to allow married couples to opt in. It’s really kind of an encouragement to younger couples, and it’s kind of a mentoring prospect; it’s that aspect of it. And I will say in the covenant marriage lLaw we passed, we do not dictate what the marriage counseling will be. Now, some are critical of that, saying we should. I don’t think the state is in the best position to tell people what they need to know before they get married. I mean, look how government works. Do you want marriages to work that way?
This pastor came up to me and he told me he’d done this month-long series. And as a result, a husband and wife who had been divorced realized not only what they had done to themselves, but what they were doing to their children. And at the end of that four-week session, they were remarried, when they did the covenant marriage ceremony. And the couple’s five-year-old son came up to the pastor and simply said, “Thanks for bringing my daddy home.”
That’s ultimately what public policy can do is encourage the religious community, society as a whole, to make the type of impact that I think each and every one of us – wherever we come from a philosophical standpoint, conservative, liberal, whatever. I don’t think there’s anyone in this debate over marriage that’s not concerned about the children and creating an environment for them that can foster their development and help them become good, productive citizens. And I think it’s going to take a collective effort and a broad approach . I think it is essential that we move forward on this issue of strengthening marriages in America.
MR. DIONNE : Thank you very, very much. Again, it’s a great honor to have the Reverend Elenora Giddings Ivory. You could speak from down there or from the podium, whichever you prefer.
ELENORA GIDDINGS IVORY: Good afternoon. In the interest of full disclosure, I probably should share a few things with you. One is that I am a former welfare recipient myself, and I am divorced, having raised two children, and was able to get myself through school and have a Master’s degree from Harvard. So that’s not too bad to be able to speak to this issue from that vantage point.
Regarding the moral assumptions embedded in the current public discourse on marriage, I’ll speak briefly about the Bible, the Presbyterian Church policy, where I work, and U.S. history. I am an ordained clergywoman in the Presbyterian Church, and do perform marriages. I could spend the full time talking about anyone of three aspects regarding marriage, and so I’m going to touch on a lot of different things very quickly, about family, welfare, and a little bit on some U.S. history, and how it’s affected some families.
I find it interesting that people always go to religion to support the notion that marriage is the ultimate aim. I think this may be because they glamorize a lot of the Biblical stories. Some may say that what I am about to say is borderline blasphemous, but I decided to leave it in anyway. But I must ask what was God promoting? Was God promoting marriage in every situation? We see that Mary, mother of Jesus, did not marry Joseph before the pregnancy happened, before the Christ child was conceived. There was a purpose and an ultimate outcome to that particular situation that led to 2,000 years of the Christian faith.
Before that, Abraham fathered children by both his 90-year-old wife, Sarah, and her slave girl, Hagar. This appears to have been God’s plan. Are we to be selective about which Biblical stories and which Biblical emphasis we represent as we choose how to deal with situations that families find themselves in? Or are we to come to understand God’s plan and that God’s ideal may be to foster varying forms of the family for varying purposes?
How do we legislate marriage or enrichment programs when a couple comes to us from different religious perspectives? How do we handle that? Will the government make a decision as to which faith group turns in the voucher for the marriage program? We have Catholics and Jews and Presbyterians having a conversation with my five-year-old grandson about why his father says the Lord’s prayer one way and his grandmother says it another way is interesting enough.
I’ll move on to Presbyterian policy for a bit, and I’ve chosen three different things I’ve kind of selected as I went through this search process on our web site. Uppermost for the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. is support for families, about bringing families together and keeping families together. We currently have a new policy that’s in the works about families – Changing Family Status, I think it may be called – and it may be coming to this June’s assembly.
Historically, our policies on certain aspects of family life can be found in social pronouncements on the status of women, on the well being of children, the elimination of poverty, and the discernment of human sexuality. It’s understandable that elected officials would want to turn to religion to save troubled families. After all, it is the church, the temple, or the synagogue, that is the institution in society that addresses the entire family.
Religious denominations and institutions may be the only organizations that addresses the entire family. If you know of another one, please let me know. That may mean that we do have a particular responsibility to families and their well-being, and we really do not know how many marriages religious institutions have already saved, perhaps a hundred times more than those we are aware of. Religion is not ducking that responsibility. We have church school and classes for enrichment. There are family outings – the entire family is invited to whatever program is happening. There are already existing services available for families or family members in churches, synagogues, and temples, but should these activities involve government, or government funding? Church programs have been voluntary up until now, but recent proposals that are attached to things like charitable choice or faith-based initiatives may make some of these programs mandatory.
The primary concern here is the partnership between government and religious institutions when it comes to the promotion of marriage and family stability. Can the government demand that a couple be married in order to gain public financial support? Did government demand that Joseph and Mary marry? We must also ask ourselves if there is such a thing as an implied civil right to remain single. In 1965, the Presbyterian Church policy says, “As wealth is not the solution to every problem, so poverty is not the sole and basic cause of every problem.” And yet poverty is a contributing cause, a powerful accessory to our social ills such as crime, juvenile delinquency, ignorance, disease, school drop out, sexual immorality, illegitimacy, alcoholism, drug addiction, street rioting, and divorce. The alleviation of poverty would bring many of these problems nearer to solution.
In 1977, our general assembly Presbyterian policy stated, in a statement that was entitled, “An Appeal to the President and the Congress of the United States for Morally Responsible U.S. Food Policy,” and I quote from that statement, that the U.S. should “provide income assistance to both one- and two-parent families, reform and simplify the welfare system, incorporating strong incentives to work but not requiring acceptance of employment as a condition for receiving public assistance for a one-parent family with preschool or elementary school children, provide income primarily in money so that social stigma will not be attached to the form of one’s subsistence, though this does not exclude additional public provisions of social services and facilities.” It goes on to say, “provide for grants in such a way that objective eligibility standards are established and maintained, and arbitrary judgments by public officials are minimized.”
There’s also a 1980′s statement entitled, “The Nurture and Purpose of Human Sexuality,” and there’s a section on singleness, which surprised me as I read it last night in preparation for this. It goes on to say, “while the church should affirm the goodness of our learning to relate to the other sex as an affirmation of the goodness of our sexual differences and the heterosexual interaction which produced us, it should not suggest that the unmarried person is somehow only half a person. The single woman is no less a woman, and the single man is no less a man in the eyes of God. If the church’s affirmation supports the divine affirmation, people will regard themselves as having worth and opportunity for fullness of life which are not contingent on being the sex partner or the life partner of another person.
A growing phenomenon in our society is the single person who has no intentions of marriage in the foreseeable future, and who does not wish to rule out sexual intercourse as a possibility in relationships. The relationship may not be seen as permanent, but the parties in them may be acting out of love, respect, and a concern for mutual growth. They may feel that sexual intercourse is an appropriate expression of the meaning of their relationship. The difference between merely casual and exploitative relationships and these are marked and significant, that understanding of them by the church, and advocacy or approval of them are also very different matters. The church’s responsibility is to keep before the people the ideal to which its tradition holds rather than to catalogue the exceptional situations in which conscientious people might feel justified in taking the exception to it.
To uphold the norm we are expressing, it is not necessary to deny that mutually enriching encounters, which were not exploitative or manipulative and evoked a measure of enduring care, have occurred between persons who are not in conventional relationships or permanent committed fidelity. What must be said, though, is that if all meetings between people are seen as possible preludes to sexual intimacy, communication between persons tend to degenerate into negotiated sexual favors.”
I’m going to move very quickly to the bottom of this one -
“Only God ultimately judged the degrees of moral responsibility of particular acts and decisions.”
In conclusion, I’d just like to point out the fact that in the U.S. we have not always promoted marriage for everyone. The legacy of selected support for marriage still exists today. We have only been in a few generations of existence in this society where people who come from slavery situations are permitted to marry. We have many generations where marriage and family stability was denied because of sanctioned government practices.
And on a personal note, I was able to find my own family history going back several generations, and that was enriching for me. Not everybody knows their own family history. My family goes back to South Carolina, my mother’s paternal family. William Dockins was the name of the plantation owner, and what he did was leave his wife in Virginia, and proceeded to have children by three slave women in South Carolina. Marriage in South Carolina was not legal between African Americans up until just a few generations ago, believe it or not.
I’d also like to point out the fact that not all single families are the result of divorce. Many single families are the result of parents who have died, and I’m not sure how we’re going to help those families if we put all of our emphasis into marriage enrichment programs.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you.
And we have Rich Cizik and Meg Riley. If I could ask both of you to compress a little bit because I’d like to be able to get the audience in before we close.
RICHARD CIZIK: Thank you E.J. Delight to be here. Welcome everybody. I think we share some things, Elenora. We’re believers: I know you’re Presbyterian, I’m Presbyterian. I know we both went to seminary, and I know we both want to solve a problem in this country. I’m not sure we define the problem the same way, and I’m pretty sure from what you said that we disagree about some of those solutions.
Brad, excellent paper. One of the first I’ve read in a long time that begins to articulate some of the myths as well as the right solutions at least from an evangelical viewpoint. Some of the right things you said very quickly. No privacy here. Who can ever talk about marriage being a private issue, and yet that’s what Cato’s David Boaz says -that marriage is one of the most intimate relations and the government should stay out of it. That is simply a myth. And as another commonality here, Elenora, I’m also clergy, and I also marry people, and unfortunately some of those I’ve married have also divorced. And I’ve watched that, and I’ve watched the dissolution, I’ve watched the child support debate, I’ve watched everything, and it’s been horrific, and we need to do something about that.
But this isn’t private. This is a very public matter, and the government ought to be able to be doing it. Assisting it as I would think you are concluding in your final comments, which include the statement that there’s a paradox here, yes. The paradox is that the state is not well suited, that’s right, but we’re really not talking about a lot of money. $300 million is not a lot when you consider that 300,000 congregations in the country, and maybe 1 or 2 percent are involved in some kind of effort, and that’s why I want to take a brief moment to mention our Christian Marriage Declaration. But no, this isn’t a lot of money, and the government isn’t going to do it directly. And we can dispute about what the founder’s intent was, but this is not going to be any great violation of the separation of church and state for what the Bush Administration is proposing.
You address rightly so some of these concerns about the secularization of programs, and I’m not acquainted all that well with PREP and other programs, but I do acknowledge – I think you challenged me on this respect to say that some of these programs, which, as you describe them, are instrumentalized religion are bound not to work. That’s probably true. We know that certain kinds of counseling only works 20 percent of the time. Well, what does work? We happen to think from our experience in looking at the NAE at all the programs out there, the kind of mentoring programs that are involved in, for example, marriage diversity, the kinds of community solutions as embodied in covenants, community marriage positives, these are efforts which do produce solutions, incredibly higher than those in traditional therapy, up to as high as 80 to 90 percent.
And yet the irony of this is as follows: I went to the American Institute for Values meeting just at that hotel, Washington Court Hotel, a few months ago, for the very first time. Now David Blankenhorn at the American Institute and another David Popenoe at the National Marriage Project have been running wonderful programs as I understand them, but their intersection with the religious community is very minimal. In fact, I went for the first time because a friend in this room invited me to go there, and I’d never been invited. Ironic! Isn’t that amazing! And yet, that is how the program at the national level is rightly secularized, but at the state and local levels is often very religious.
And I think that the proposal by the author here as embodied in his recommendation that this may well require that the government do more – I’m quoting from the last page, 38 – “to help religious and other civic efforts on behalf of marriage” is rightly put. Well said. It also means that the religious and secular custodians of marriage — religious denominations of which the NAE has 51, and therapeutic professions, which I suppose are represented by these institutes and other groups — must rediscover ways in which marriage is indeed a sacred institution, and marshal the social resources and moral authority to command the attention of the American public — absolutely right — one of the first papers I have read that has acknowledged the role of these kinds of associations such as Marriage Savers in solving this problem.
There are tensions here, of course, as you point out. At that same meeting over here, someone raised the question. We’d gone through an hour and a half of two, and somebody says, what about same-sex marriages. You could have heard a pin drop. Now each of you rightly pointed out, two things happened in these settings. Either one, you could hear a pin drop and nobody says anything, or the other occurs in which all hell breaks loose, you know, and you can’t hear anything. But the point is that there has to be some convergence of these movements.
Now, what we have attempted to do is the following: We conspired very publicly, not privately, with the U.S. Catholic Conference. Rick McCord is here today. Thank you, Rick, for your hard work with the United States Catholic Conference and with the Southern Baptist Convention. And I think I saw Shannon Royce in the back here for the Southern Baptists to put together a Christian Marriage Declaration, which is our attempt, you see, to provide something positive all around the country to these communities that are looking for an affirmation of what is right and what churches can do. And the author of the paper has got it exactly right. The national church bodies have not done what they should do. And I say that as a representative of the Assemblies of God, the Evangelical Free Church, and 49 other denominations. They simply have not done what we ourselves can do.
Now I believe government can do, and I support these programs. The myths out here that are being pulled out, not just that this is a private issue of mentioning Cato, but others I would like to quote just briefly in passing. I saw Kim Gandy, of NOW, on the O’Reilly Factor. She said to say these women, where the father of these children here, abandoned or abused them, have got to track them down and marry them, you know, this is simply terrible. Nobody, least of all the Bush Administration, is proposing that. I wouldn’t even recommend it, either, and I’m supposedly one of those religious right-types about which these professional elitists don’t want to associate, you know. Actually my view of government is more expansive than even they would probably want at times.
Or these other myths out there that we don’t need to encourage marriage. There’s a quote out from Belle Sawhill that says 90 percent of all American women are married by the age of 45. This is simply wrong. Some of the facts bandied around – you know, 60 percent in 1960, but in 2000, 53 percent are married. And why has this happened? Because of co-habitation, and it’s a direct factor in poverty, and this is why the government needs to get involved. Not directly funding, if you’re one of those limited government fans, but through these kinds of programs that are active out around the country. That’s why we support charitable choice, and there ought to be a means to do that.
Even the Washington Post says that nothing can be done to reverse this trend. How wrong-headed, and I’ve been involved in enough social movements to know that when you start out with that premise, you’re exactly right: nothing will be done. But if you start out with a different premise that you can change the world — and believe me, that’s what Christians ought to start out with — you can. And if you look at these kinds of programs articulated by Marriage Savers and others, divorces have plunged 34 in 36 cities.
I will just close with the Washington Post, which I don’t always agree with. Sometimes I do. This one I do. Why not find out whether helping mothers and fathers tackle the challenge, the challenging task, you see, of getting and staying married — why not find out whether this works, and find a way out of poverty. Why not try it, is what the Washington Post essentially said, and I say to you and to others, why not. Thank you.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you very much. Just speaking for two of my affiliations, I appreciate the kind reference to the Washington Post. I’ve never heard Belle Sawhill get a number wrong, so we have to figure out where the disagreement is on that number, but thank you very much. And again, I apologize to the whole panel for trying to cut everybody short. We went a little over on the first one, and I’m trying to see if we can preserve some time for discussion. Meg, thank you.
MEG RILEY: Trying to cut preachers short is a challenge. (Laughter.)
MR. DIONNE: It’s the hardest part of my job.
MS. RILEY: Thank you, Dr. Wilcox, for that provocative article, a word used often. And indeed, it provoked me on so many levels that it was difficult to choose a few to focus my thoughts for this brief response.
Let me first say that the Unitarian Universalist Association strongly opposes using $300,000 million of the monies designated for temporary assistance for needy families to promote marriage. We call marriage promotion a 3-D provision in that bill. The first D stands for discriminatory. Those of us who’ve been engaged in the on-going debates about charitable choice and the faith-based initiative are all too aware of the possibilities for discrimination that exist when the government gives money to sectarian institutions. This discrimination takes several forms: discrimination in employment; who will be employed by government dollars and who will not be employed to run marriage promotion programs. Discrimination in benefits: who will be accepted and who will be denied access to services. This provision runs a strong risk of practicing discrimination based on religion and also based on marital status and sexual orientation. So the first D stands for discriminatory.
The second D stands for dangerous. Promotion of marriage is dangerous to the high percentage of women who receive welfare and are abused by boyfriends and husbands. Encouraging a woman to enter or remain in a marriage with a violent man, even a violent man who has undergone premarital counseling, is a dangerous proposition for her and her children. But the danger in this provision is not only to these families. There’s a danger also to our religiously pluralistic nation and to the careful balance of religious and government influences that we have been negotiating since our country’s inception. So the second D is for dangerous.
The third D stands for diversionary. As has been mentioned, a relatively small amount of money will garner great attention from people such as those gathered here today, and we will talk about marriage rather than other provisions of this bill. For instance, while the work restrictions are stronger in the new TANF legislation, there’s no additional money for child care. We’re not here talking about that. Rather than listening to the welfare recipients who state repeatedly, and we can look at their testimony, that their barriers to leaving poverty are lack of good and safe childcare, lack of education and training, lack of transportation and livable wages, we will focus the nation’s attention on this provision which is low on the list of most of the people who are affected in trying to get out of poverty. So the third D stands for diversionary.
Having said that about this specific TANF provision for marriage promotion, I want to respond a bit more broadly to Dr. Wilcox’s paper. Many times in reading it I was not sure that we mean the same thing when we use the same words; the word marriage for instance, and specifically the religious or moral dimensions of marriage. Dr. Wilcox seems to view marriage as the preferred way of living ordained by God, inherently good regardless of the quality of life for those within it, at least that’s how I understood it. Though he did not say so, I suspect that marriage by his definition can only take place between a man and a woman, and he does state that child bearing and child rearing is the primary function of marriage, along with economic and domestic stability.
My own religion, Unitarian Universalism, means something different when we speak about marriage. We believe in a God who is incarnate, revealed in loving relationships, which embody life-giving mutual commitment and joy. We do not believe that God favors traditional heterosexual marriage above other family formation. We celebrate the godliness of single people, childless couples, gay and lesbian, and bisexual people, if their lives are lived with integrity, commitment, and concern for the greater good. Our clergy have officiated at the unions of same-sex couples for over 30 years, and we stand on record, along with some other denominations, in supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage. While we are deeply committed to couples remaining together through good times and bad — and like the other preachers here I’ve worked with many couples who’ve been married, and I always root for them to stay together — we also believe that under certain circumstances, there is such a thing as a godly divorce.
The gift of living in a religiously pluralistic nation such as ours is that Dr. Wilcox and I can coexist without resorting to condemnation of the other’s views. That co-existence is enabled by our government following the edicts of the Constitution’s first amendment, not funding either one of our religions to promote its particular views. Dr. Wilcox acknowledges that marriage enhancement courses work best when they are contexualized within the religious community the participants call home. Religious support for strong families, godly families even, is appropriate and much needed in the context of congregations. I truly think it’s great that Oklahoma clergy have come together to promote lasting marriage in our throw-away culture.
However, such promotion has absolutely nothing to do with the government, and should not be funded by government dollars or spearheaded by government figures. I don’t want my tax dollars to promote Dr. Wilcox’s religious values. I could bet he doesn’t want his tax dollars to promote mine.
If the marriage promotion movement devotes itself to encouraging religious leaders to offer better premarital counseling and post-marital support in the context of their own faiths, I am fully for it. If governments funds promote a conservative, Christian definition of marriage, imposing it upon the diverse peoples of our nation, I will forever stand opposed. I am privileged to raise my own child in the context of a committed relationship and with adequate financial resources. However, the greatest gift I want to bequeath to her is the gift of living in a nation where she is free to be herself, make her own decisions, and practice her own faith without being pressured or condemned for doing so. Thank you.
MR. DIONNE: Boy, we have a lot to talk about. One of the purposes of the Pew Forum is to bring together, in peaceable dialogue, representatives of our very diverse communities, and boy, we really did that today, and I really want to thank our panelists for helping us and both panels.
The second point I want to make is I thought, as the Reverend Riley was speaking, that there are the fourth and the fifth D’s – Deserving of Debate. Which is what we’ve kicked off. I don’t want to narrow the discussion at all, but it does strike me that something the Reverend Giddings Ivory said may help encapsulate this debate a little bit. It was, I believe, from the Presbyterian Church’s position, and the sentence was, “the alleviation of poverty would bring many of these problems to solution.” And I think part of this debate is about that proposition on the one side, and another proposition, which is that the alleviation of many of these family problems would bring many poverty problems to solution.
Now I don’t believe these two are mutually exclusive, but I do think that’s part of the framework of this dialogue we’re having. And with that, I want to invite any comments from any point of view, and we’ve got a lot of hands. Sir.
Q: Jerry Kamens, Search for Common Ground. I’ll aim this primarily at the Reverend Ivory, although I’m sure Meg Riley would have some thoughts, too. I accept what you said about the civil rights of those who don’t want to be married and about government helping to alleviate poverty helping marriage, and what Meg Riley said about godly divorce. Having said all of that, can you envisage any government program actions, with or without funds, that could directly encourage marriage as an institution to protect children more than they have in addition to alleviating poverty. Can you see anything at all, or are you just opposed to any direct government actions in this area?
MS. IVORY: I think it’s important for any two people who produce a child to support that child. Regardless of what may happen between the two of them, they need to be there to financially and spiritually and physically support that child as much as possible. If for some reason that cannot happen, then we do need other support systems. We do have in our communities other volunteer support systems that are connected to our churches or other non-profit organizations, but they can’t do it all — we’ve had these conversations before — so we do need some other assistance programs. And it might be that those programs could be after-school centers that could be supported in the community for children who need to come for a discussion about some of the problems they are having at home or homework or whatever. So it’s not either/or, this or that. I think as much as we can give our children as possible the better.
MS. RILEY: My legislative assistant gave me a list of some state programs that in our estimation do that, that are not exceeding the bounds of a good relationship between church and state, and they’re not imposing and they’re not using money. I don’t believe that there’s no relationship possible at all. I think some of the moderate proposals that take into account non-discrimination, non-proselytizing and all of that, can be acceptable.
MR. CIZIK: I would simply say something that I think that everybody knows, which is that between 1965 and the year 2000, the expenditures annually have gone for addressing these childhood poverty problems from $40 billion to around $330 billion. And the child poverty rate has not gone down. I would like to see acknowledgement, I think government has, largely the electorate has, that the problem doesn’t defy solution, it’s just that the solutions we’ve tried have defied common sense.
MR. DIONNE: Although, Rich, I would point out that a lot of the money you’re talking about has gone into medical care, and an awful lot of that number is the creation of Medicaid and the rise in medical costs. It’s not like we’ve handed out all that money to individuals.
MR. CIZIK: Right. And I’m not an advocate for cutting those programs, I’m just simply saying let’s complement those programs with new programs with solutions.
MR. DIONNE: Representative Perkins, you’ve listened to a lot of stuff. I’d love you to respond to anything you’ve heard so far.
REP. PERKINS: What if I said I didn’t have anything to say? Would you believe me?
MR. DIONNE: No.
REPRESENTATIVE PERKINS: Okay. I go back to my experience. The only thing that I’ve really worked on has been the covenant marriage aspect. That is strictly a voluntary relationship that the couples enter into to. They choose where they’re going to get their religious counseling. Whether they’re Jewish, whether they’re Catholic, whether they’re Baptist; they chose where they go to. The state does not dictate where they go to, nor does it give preference to one or the other. With that what – the government does encourage folks to get married in the church because it is one of the options and most choose it. It doesn’t say you need to get married – you can get married by a justice of the peace, but it is an option that the government recognizes.
What we’re doing is when marriages are going bad, we’re giving couples up front the options of saying, well, instead of going to the divorce attorney, we’re going to go back to the folks that married us, hopefully working out those differences. And the studies show that if there is intervention in time, many of those relationships can be salvaged.
Granted, we acknowledge that some will not be, and we take into account the domestic abuse, drug abuse and those sorts of things in the relationship. But I think covenant marriage addresses that issue because there’s no expenditures. So I really can’t speak to the other measures, especially from the federal level because I’m just not that involved although we are looking how we can use our TANF monies more for the promotion of the concept of marriage. I mean marriage is one of those things. When you talk about it and you say marriage is good, it’s good for kids – you talk about the studies, you promote it, you promote the concept of marriage, and that’s really what we’re looking at doing with our TANF monies in Louisiana.
MR. DIONNE: Before somebody else responds to that and then I want to go over to this side, could I ask you questions you’ve probably been asked a hundred times about this: is there any evidence that the covenant marriage has actually promoted enduring relationships? That’s number one, and number two, could this be determined already by the fact that those choosing to go into covenant marriages may be less likely to divorce in the first place. What do we know about what’s happened so far?
REP. PERKINS: That’s a good question, and I think within the next two weeks, a longitudinal study will be released speaking to some of those issues. For the first question, it is really early to determine just what the long-term impact is. I can speak fairly conclusively to the second question of, is it just couples that would stay married anyway that are choosing covenant marriage.
The fact is it is quite interesting who’s choosing covenant marriage. They range from those who have been married before who have been divorced and understand how fragile the marriage relationship can be, and want the additional security of the covenant marriage that it affords by making that agreement up front between the two partners. And there does seem to be a correlation, no question about it, between those with strong religious convictions and those who enter covenant marriage.
But it’s not a foregone conclusion that it’s simply those whose marriages would have worked anyway because I know for a fact that’s not the case, that as I have been – I’ve gotten hundreds of wedding invitations since I’ve passed this, so I happen to track it somewhat. (Laughter.) Thankfully I have -
MR. DIONNE: Do you send gifts to everybody?
REP. PERKINS: No, I don’t, but we have found that there are those that require the counseling prior to the divorce, that that provision has kicked in in some cases, and that that counseling has been successful and the marriages have stayed together. So it is serving a beneficial provision in Louisiana in some cases.
MS. IVORY: I’d just like to share that within many churches, the ones that I’m aware of, clergy do premarital counseling before they perform the service, and there are people who call up and say they’d like to get married in the church because it’s a pretty structure and that’s where they want to have their wedding, and pastors are often saying, no, that’s not the reason to use my structure. Marriage is more important than the physical structure that you’re looking at.
So I would think that those who are coming to a congregation or to a church to have their marriage performed have already committed to some of the things that need to happen in order to make that situation work. Now that’s not for everyone. They still are frivolous about it and don’t fully understand what they’re getting into until they get into it, but churches don’t perform wedding ceremonies just for the sake of performing wedding ceremonies and send people on their way, for the most part.
MR. DIONNE: We had a couple questions over here. This lady and that gentleman.
Q: Thanks. Jan Erickson with the National Organization for Women. There are so many aspects that one could comment on and ask questions on in this program. It’s hard to know where to begin, and I hope we can do another, maybe more than just one forum on this issue. I have to say that a lot of my colleagues in the feminist community are very nervous when we have conservative political religious leaders in the forefront of this debate because – I have to tell a very short story here.
Years ago, my minister in the Unitarian Fellowship took on about 30 fundamentalists and evangelical ministers in my home community for counseling battered women in their congregations to stop misbehaving and go back home to their husband and behave, and also implying that their behavior was provoking the battering they were getting.
Now we know that some of that has eased, and many of these ministers no longer are so overt in these kinds of instructions. I think, however -
MR. DIONNE: How long ago was that, out of curiosity?
Q: That was about 15 years ago, but thanks to the women’s movement and a more recent awareness of the problems, very pervasive problems of domestic violence, we know this is eased. However, the problem really with conservative religious political leaders being in the forefront is that they are, by and large, advocating for a traditional or hierarchical or patriarchal, to use an overused term, in marital arrangements. And from what we understand, many women in this society are trending towards having a negotiative, a more equal balance relationship in a marriage, and this is where a lot of the conflict is occurring. And the concern with utilizing public dollars in supporting these programs, is that these so-called marriage skills counseling programs are going to counsel women in this hierarchical or patriarchal or dad-in-charge marital arrangements.
So that’s a big question. What kinds of skills are we going to be teaching parents? And we know that most of the recipients that are going into these counseling programs are women and not men, and so what does that mean in terms of really skills learning on the part of both men and women. So those are very important concerns.
One other thing I wanted to mention is that even though the data shows that a lot of low-income women would like to be married, they have a great deal of concern about losing control in a relationship. They’ve been on their own, they’ve been supporting their kids, and they see this possibility of having a marriage as their losing control. So when you combine that with the knowledge that a lot of non-custodial dads that we’ve heard about from some of these organizations that deal with low income non-custodial dads that they don’t want to get married. They feel they aren’t earning enough money to get married, and a lot of their counselors feel that these individuals need a lot more work and then we also hear from some of the programs that we’ve talked to in various states that there have been very few applicants coming forward for these counseling programs. What does this mean about the correctness of this direction and the use of public funds?
So I’ll just leave you with those questions, although I have many more, and I hope we can take them up in the future.
MR. DIONNE: I hope so, too. Let me solicit a few quick comments because we are way over time now. I know some people have other engagements. If we could get over here and over here, and also I just can’t resist saying, you and Brad should sit down in the search for common ground. Brad did a very interesting paper once suggesting that evangelical families have quite egalitarian structures inside the family, and it’s just an interesting, sort of empirical finding. And some of that, I think, does suggest social change over the last 20 years, but that, I think, is a complicated issue, but you guys should talk. Please.
Q: Since this is TANF, we are looking at low income, we can look at all kinds of data, but when you get down to the low-income population, we don’t know a whole lot, haven’t collected a lot of data in certain areas of this whole debate. So let me throw it open.
You know, you are going to deal with a population that has a lot more cohabitation involved than you do obviously proceeding right to marriage. So you’re going to deal with a situation – a single parent that has the father of the child involved. How are you going to, in the midst of trying to promote marriage, how are you going to deal with this other, what would be the larger population, of families that are engaged in cohabitation. How are you going to promote marriage and deal with this other population?
MR. DIONNE: And then, sir, you wanted to come in. Is that right? If we could bring you the mike, and then I am sorry we will have to shut it down, so I’ll ask everybody to make some brief comments. Let me just put one more in, Rich, and then you can take that.
Q: I think there’s some pretty good evidence that religion alone does not make very strong marriage because divorce rate in evangelical churches is roughly equal to the rest of society. And there’s also some evidence that education and skills programs alone do not make for strong marriages. But there is some recent evidence — I don’t think it’s as extensive and has enough longevity to be conclusive — from Dr. Howard Markman (sp) from University of Denver and PREP, that a combination of skills-based education within a caring community where religion is a bonder is effective. And so I think that’s one of the things we’re looking at in this debate.
MR. DIONNE: That’s a very helpful comment, thank you.
MS. IVORY: Just quickly, I hope we’re not talking about an either/or situation. Often within the religious community or within churches it is not unusual to grab something that may be put together by what’s seen as a secular or a non-profit organization, and that’s the case with domestic violence programs. A lot of churches have used that material to learn how to deal with that situation within the families in their congregations. So if there is something that is produced out there to help families stay together better, it would perfectly fine for congregations to take that on as materials to support what’s being done already.
MR. CIZIK: One of the actions that I think needs to be done, and I think the other aforementioned religious umbrella organizations agree with this, where do you take the statement we’ve put together in terms of what we believe, and translate that and flesh it out into realistic programs and understanding which will be helpful in the inner city and other arenas, which are not, frankly, solely isolated in their problems of cohabitation and the rest. I mean those are society-wide conundrums, and what we want to do is move the major religious bodies forward in realistic long-term plans that will remedy some of these social ills. And I think unless we accept that role, we’re not doing justice either to the Lord we serve nor the people we profess to love.
MS. RILEY: There’s just so much on the floor. I guess I’ll just close by saying I that I think it’s really important that we take all of this conversation within the larger societal context, that everybody of all income levels is struggling to live with right now in this country and around the world, and that is that people are working — whether they’re poor or whether they’re wealthy — they’re working very long hours, that it’s increasingly hard to support children and to keep families together. And so again, I just want to echo my support for anybody who religiously is doing anything to work on that, and to echo that within my own denomination, we’re certainly looking at some of those issues of family life. And I actually think there’s a lot of common ground here, perhaps not about government spending, but certainly about the value of strong, moral families, and that’s something we all share.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you. Representative Perkins.
REP. PERKINS: I would just say this in response to the earlier comment or question that you not just discredit those who have religious convictions that are bringing solutions to the table. I get to speak from my family environment. My wife – we’re very much in a partnership. She’s actually better educated than me: that’s why I’m in politics and she’s not. (Laughter.) She is a vice-president of a company, very much able to work on her own, but we’re very committed spiritually and we’ve chosen to raise our children in that type of environment.
My concern comes from my faith because I care deeply about people, I care deeply about children that have no options. And I think government does have a role here to encourage our society to be more virtuous.
Now I think we can agree to that, or most can agree to that. How do we do that? There’s going to be some conflict, but I would just ask in this debate to not simply write people off because of stereotypical ideas or notions we have about people. I think for the benefit of the country that we move forward on this issue. I’ll tell you, I have worked with people in Louisiana that are very much to the left of me – some would say that’s not very hard to do – (laughter) — but they are over there. But we’ve worked collectively on issues that are very important, so I would hope we would do this as a nation.
MR. DIONNE: I think that’s a great note to close on. I would just like to say two things. We are, at some point, planning to look at the issues of welfare and social justice in a broader context, and we will let you all know when we do that. And in the spirit of the last comment, one of my favorite concepts was put forward by Glenn Tinder, a political philosopher, who proposed that we should live in an attentive society. And he defined that as a place where everyone understands the obligation both to give and to receive help on the road to truth. And I think everyone who participated today was both willing to give and to receive help. And I want to thank everyone, both in the audience and the people who served on our panels: thank you very much.
(End of event.)