Faith-based billions can't buy you love

Posted: Friday, September 03, 2004

The Department of God and Jesus - also known as the U.S. Administration for Children & Families - is pushing government-issue brides. You know the kind: Back in the good times, when men wore pressed shirts, you didn't need a federal grant to find one. You could go out for a drive and come home with one, often by accident. These days a little social programming is advised.

For that reason, the state of Alaska is funneling $500,000 from the Bush administration's "Healthy Marriages Initiative" to "faith-based organizations" to teach people what's hip with the one man/one woman paradigm. Nationwide, it's a $1.5 billion enterprise. These dollars come from taxpayers, among them the menacing 86 million American adults who are not married.

Remember 2000, when the idea of faith-based expenditures was notable for its potential constitutional conflict? Who would've guessed then that in practice the movement would conflict mainly with logic?

Trust me. You cannot teach love. And if somebody needs the instruction, you do not want to be married to that person. Child support, in every case and from both ends, is preferable to misery.

The God and Jesus Web site (http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/healthymarriage/index.html) says that the agency is NOT a federal dating service, but is meant to extend funds to those who might prepare young people for strong marriages. But it goes on to list dozens of benefits of strong marriage, including children who go to college and don't get sexually transmitted diseases, women who are wealthier and don't get sexually transmitted diseases, and men who live longer, don't commit suicide and don't get sexually transmitted diseases.

And the Web site's quotation of President Bush leaves little question about his intent: "To encourage marriage and promote the well-being of children, I have proposed a healthy marriage initiative to help couples develop the skills and knowledge to form and sustain healthy marriages. Research has shown that, on average, children raised in households headed by married parents fare better than children who grow up in other family structures."

But let's take it at face value that no one from the church or group that wins a grant will tell you marriage is best. What, then, can the agency and its money do for you?

Its stated agenda includes:

• Advertising the value of healthy marriages and its prerequisite skills.

• Educating high schoolers about how to have healthy marriages (presumably later in life).

• Teaching marriage-enhancement skills to those already married (presumably not with pornography).

• Teaching relationship and financial skills to expectant couples.

• Reducing divorce through the above teachings.

• Conducting research on the benefits of healthy marriages and the above teachings.

In short, wasting $1.5 billion dollars on a feel-good campaign.

Alaska's $500,000 share is roughly what Juneau officials say could create a nicer smelling sewage plant. My vote goes to the neighbor on chemo who says the sewage plant intensifies her nausea. But I'm sure there are other smart ways to spend a half-million dollars; even some that would be more effective than marriage promotions. Russian mail-order comes to mind.

The American Association for Single People - also not a dating service - often gets in a snit over the government's fixation with marriage or the workplace's favoritism to the married. In this case the fledgling group just shakes its head.

"It's really not going to do much to change anything," says Thomas Coleman, the group's Glendale, Calif.-based executive director. "These are election-year sound bites."

Coleman's point is that any program relying on traditional marriage as a model is as doomed as any program that teaches abstinence as a primary sex-ed theme. It's the same brand of goody-goody pandering.

"'Till death do us part' was an integral part of the traditional marriage," he says. "That doesn't exist anymore." In its place is a wide range of families and relationships that people have found right for them, and that deserve support.

Coleman suggests that a far better use of government money is to teach contraception to avoid the pregnancies that, even in the 21st century, produce shotgun weddings that no amount of counseling or marriage enhancement can save.

Singles on the whole don't scoff at marriage. Coleman notes that nine in 10 of them will marry at some stage in life.

But the fact that half of those marriages will fail - have been failing for decades - indicates something larger than a young couple's poor grasp of a checkbook or how to have a fight. It means that marriage isn't for everyone, or maybe even most.



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