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The state of Alaska is urging community and religious groups to apply for federal grants promoting marriage.
President George W. Bush's Healthy Marriages Initiative was established in 2002 with the goal of promoting marriage and providing couples access to marriage education services. Funding for the program in Alaska totals $500,000 and will be doled out by the state Department of Health and Social Services in grants of up to $50,000.
"Healthy marriages are the foundation of our society and this funding will provide many tools to Alaskans to improve their ability to enjoy a successful future together with their families," social services Commissioner Joel Gilbertson said in a prepared statement.
A national women's advocacy group says the $1.5 billion federal program is a waste of taxpayers' money and a pork-barrel project for right-wing religious organizations.
"This administration has decided that the solution to poverty is just to marry off all the poor women," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. Gandy spoke from a cell phone in New York City Wednesday after giving an abortion rights speech during a protest of the Republican National Convention.
"A good use of this money is giving poor women the skills and education to be self-supporting and self-sufficient to take care of their children," Gandy said.
She added that it is not the government's job to promote marriage: "That goes without saying, especially with an administration that says government should keep its nose out of people's business."
Bob Buttcane, coordinator of faith-based community initiatives for the state, said the program is not intended to persuade couples to marry if they're not ready. Buttcane also is an ordained minister for Unity church of Juneau but said his status as a religious leader is separate from his state job.
"Look at family violence issues and it's hard to argue that destructive relationships like that should continue," Buttcane said. "Each circumstance is unique. You've got to be mindful of what you're dealing with."
Buttcane acknowledged, however, that research showing the positive results of marriage are mixed.
"Not every study says this is the best thing since sliced bread," Buttcane said.
Buttcane said proposals for the grants are due to the Department of Health and Social Services by Sept. 15. He said the department is hoping to complete a review of the proposals and award funding by early October.
"We are looking for proposals that might include education programs directed toward high school students on the value of marriage and relationship skills," Buttcane said. "Perhaps programs that would focus on engaged couples or couples interested in marriage."
Katherine Farnham, the director for the state Division of Public Assistance, said the funding is part of a $3.2 million award of federal funds for the state's success in welfare-to-work programs. The award was provided from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
"The linkage to the Healthy Marriages Initiative is there's evidence that shows families that have two parents are less likely to need temporary assistance," she said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Web site says marriage services under the program are not provided to gay couples. The Web site does state: "However, all individuals and couples would continue to be eligible for various forms of public assistance as needed and for relationship skills training under other federal programs, including the Federal Safe and Stable Families Act."