Just saying no to subsidy for marriage

January 27, 2004|By SUSAN REIMER

I'D LIKE TO take this opportunity to thank President Bush for the $1.5 billion he is planning to spend to save my marriage.

It might take every penny.

The proposal is stuck in Congress at the moment, so I'm saving receipts until my -- our -- check comes in the mail.

I look at it like a tax refund -- money from the government that you have already earned. My husband and I have done our part, so we figure we have a healthy check coming.

We have stayed married for 20 years so our children could be raised with all the benefits of a two-parent family. We've barely had time to talk to each other in complete sentences over that time, but the kids seem healthy and well-adjusted.

But a little money for dinner out would help my husband and me do the kind of communicating Bush is willing to pay for.

Forgive me. This type of initiatives inevitably brings out my cynical nature. And spending $1.5 billion to talk the poor into marrying and staying married sets a new standard for smug self-righteousness. Not to mention ignorance.

Does Bush really believe the poor are lousy marriage material because they don't have polished interpersonal skills?

Does he really believe all that is needed to stop the repercussive damage of single-parenthood is a public relations campaign on the benefits of holy matrimony?

And does Bush really believe this sop to conservatives will get him off the hook for not proposing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage?

What planet is this man on?

The ills of single-parenthood are well known and there is no doubt that children do better when they grow up in a functioning two-parent (which usually means two-income) household, as long as neither parent is abusive or addicted to drugs or alcohol.

And there is increasing evidence that the kinds of inter-personal skills that make a partnership like marriage work can, indeed, be taught and that it might make sense for these skills to be taught in high schools.

But the president's proposal does not acknowledge that the real stresses on poor families have little to do with either partner's belief in the institution of marriage or the ability to speak one's mind.

The poor have more pressing issues. They are undereducated, under-employed or unemployed. They are not paid a living wage. They don't have access to decent child care or good schools for their kids. They don't have transportation to decent jobs where they can work decent hours.

If you want to spend money to help poor families stay together, you might pick something from this list to fund rather than spending money on some goofy initiative to promote the value of marriage.

A poor woman might be open to this pitch if the father of her children has a decent job that includes health care for her and the kids. If he does not, she might understandably decide that it would be a mistake to hitch her wagon to his.

Putting a marriage-counseling center in her neighborhood isn't going to change his suitability, but spending $1.5 billion to put some jobs in the neighborhood might.

President Bush seems to think the poor don't marry because they don't understand how good it would be for them to be married.

He doesn't seem to understand that it would be better for them not to be poor.

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