Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Bush wants to spend $1.5 billion to promote "healthy marriage."

(For the moment, ignore the cost and dubious necessity of the program.)

According to the New York Times,

Administration officials said their goal was "healthy marriage," not marriage for its own sake.
"We know this is a sensitive area," [Wade F. Horn, the assistant secretary of health and human services for children and families,] said. "We don't want to come in with a heavy hand. All services will be voluntary. We want to help couples, especially low-income couples, manage conflict in healthy ways. We know how to teach problem-solving, negotiation and listening skills. This initiative will not force anyone to get or stay married. The last thing we'd want is to increase the rate of domestic violence against women."
Under the president's proposal, federal money could be used for specific activities like advertising campaigns to publicize the value of marriage, instruction in marriage skills and mentoring programs that use married couples as role models.
Federal officials said they favored premarital education programs that focus on high school students; young adults interested in marriage; engaged couples; and unmarried couples at the moment of a child's birth, when the parents are thought to have the greatest commitment to each other.
Alan M. Hershey, a senior fellow at Mathematica Policy Research in Princeton, N.J., said his company had a $19.8 million federal contract to measure the effectiveness of such programs for unwed parents. Already, Mr. Hershey said, he is providing technical assistance to marriage-education projects in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas.
A major purpose, he said, is to help people "communicate about money, sex, child-raising and other difficult issues that come up in their relationships."

Given that earlier Republican efforts "encouraged" marriage by punishing unmarried couples and forbidding divorce, this is an improvement. Not only would this encourage marriage, it would encourage good marriages - and that's good.

But there's a catch:

Dr. Horn said that federal money for marriage promotion would be available only to heterosexual couples. As a federal official, he said, he is bound by a 1996 statute, the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for any program established by Congress. The law states, "The word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife."
But Dr. Horn said: "I don't have any problem with the government providing support services to gay couples under other programs. If a gay couple had a child and they were poor, they might be eligible for food stamps or cash assistance."

Further evidence that bigotry causes harm. The purpose of this program is to provide better families for children. Presumably, children of both same- and different-sex couples would benefit from this program. Yet because of anti-gay bigotry, only one group of children will.