Indie journalist Amy DePaul has published a story about those bad-old George W. Bush-era programs that push marriage as a magic solution to poverty and family discord. In “Bush Era Moral Crusaders Still Pushing Marriage on the Rest of Us,” she reports that now they’re Obama-era programs, too!
The recently released Obama budget would preserve the five-year marriage initiative, although Congress still could eliminate it in appropriations. The initiative awards grants to demystify wedlock to teens, low-income populations, the public at large, married couples, singles looking to marry, engaged couples and couples who recently had or are expecting a baby. One program even targets incarcerated parents.
The programs do not provide individualized couples therapy but rather are seminar-type events conducted in classroom settings, using curricula that emphasize relationship staples such as communication, compromise and romance.
Who is winning these grants, and what are they doing with the money?
They are often faith-based organizations, community groups and educational institutions that have won federal grants of anywhere from $200,000 to $2 million to combine instruction in relationship skills with the celebration of legally sanctioned, long-term commitment.
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As part of its public-education campaign, the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center has created the Web site TwoOfUs.org, which offers tips on dealing with money, conflict and romance in long-term relationships. The tasteful page design and content of the site seem deliberately feminine — a recent lead article was on the impact of mothers and the challenges of being a supermom (though the discussion boards are, weirdly, dominated by men voicing disdain for marriage and women).
(That’s not so weird. Just ask any feminist blogger about all of the d00dly d00ds who are so full of helpful suggestions as to how to present our ideas in much more man-friendly, man-approved ways! Because of course feminism, like everything else in the world, is all about the menz.) Yes–your tax dollars are funding yet another website in which d00dly a$$hats get their misogyny on. (Confidential to the Obama administration: people with blogs provide this valuable public service for free! You can get out of the business of subsidizing slander, if you want to.)
Buried in DePaul’s story is this little nugget that got me thinking:
This kind of relationship turnover is a serious problem, according to Andrew Cherlin, author of The Marriage-Go-Round, who said that Americans divorce and remarry at higher rates than in other industrial countries. Repartnering and remarrying are often a source of instability in American children’s lives.
“Marriage is a good thing for kids. But if you already have a child and have broken up, we should not be telling you to hurry up and get married to someone else,” Cherlin said.
He added that countries where marriage is not as highly venerated as in the U.S. still manage to foster stable family lives — and that stability is as important a message as matrimony.
“Here’s an amazing statistic: A child living with married parents in the U.S. has a higher risk of seeing his parents break up than a child living with unmarried parents in Sweden,” Cherlin said. “There’s a danger in making marriage the only emphasis in our family policies.”
Hmmmmm. . . what makes Americans so eager to marry, and remarry, and re-remarry compared to those faithful, cautious Swedes? Could it be our fracked up health care system, in which insurance is a for-profit business and one can include only spouses and children on policies in most states? (Some states permit the insuring of “domestic partners,” but not all.) Now that might be the reason Americans marry early and often by comparison to people in most other European and North American countries! It’s the only way they can get themselves and their kids any health care. I don’t really love him, but I’ll marry him because he’s got gold-plated insurance and I have no other way of getting my kids to the doctor and staying on my prescription meds. Ain’t it romantic!
How fascinating that many on the right advocate these marriage advocacy programs also adamantly oppose single-payer health care, which would permit individuals regardless of marital status to get access to health care. (Yes, people who are living on the public t!t preaching marriage and abstinence morph into radical libertarians when it comes to the evil spectre of single payer.) I’ve long thought that the U.S. government should get out of the business of rewarding heteronormativity and marriage: why should tax policy take into account one’s marital status? Why can’t we designate a beneficiary to inherit a survivor’s portion of our Social Security benefits, regardless of our relationship to that person?
Clearly, offering universal health care to individuals is the only fair way to go. Can it be that resistance to single-payer systems in the U.S. is intimately connected to fears that patriarchal authority within families will be threatened if people can get health care as individuals rather than as dependent family members?