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March 02, 2004

A Little Pro-Marriage Whitewashing by the Family Scholar's Blog

When I read these statements by Tom Sylvester on the Family Scholar's Blog, my eyebrows went up.


There's one key question that I, as pro-marriage advocate, struggle with continuously: At what point does promoting the intact, married mother-father ideal hurt the interests of children overall by neglecting those in other family types? An extreme pro-marriage position--e.g., cutting off all welfare payments to single parents to discourage out-of-wedlock childbearing--would hurt children far more than it would help them. The ideal is not to be promoted at any cost. So, would gay marriage weaken the normative ideal of children growing up with both their mother and father? Though the actual negative impact is likely to be small, yes, gay marriage would weaken that ideal. But the fight against discrimination, and the fight for equal human dignity, is worth it.

I don't agree at all with Ampersand that Sylvester's statements are "well-argued." It is doubtful that Sylvester has forgotten policies promoted by his fellow pro-marriage advocate, Wade Horn, that endorsed the very "neglect" he mentions above. Would he call Horn an extremist? I don't think so. Horn rejected those policies only after a coalition of groups, including gay and lesbian groups, and women's groups loudly protested.

Before Horn was nominated by Bush for his current position as HHS Assistant Secretary, he wrote the following in his 1997 article Marriage and Government: Government needs to change the tax code and welfare rules to provide incentives for marriage. At the time, Horn was president of the National Fatherhood Initiative and former U.S. commissioner for children, youth, and families. [Bold emphasis is mine.]


But as with tax reform, making welfare neutral when it comes to marriage is not sufficient. In far too many welfare-dependent communities, marriage is a dying, if not already dead, institution. To revive it, states will have to build in strong preferences for two-parent, married households.

One place to start is to give preference to married couples when distributing certain limited-supply welfare benefits. Not every welfare benefit is universally available to everyone who meets income-eligibility requirements. Some benefits are of limited supply, either because there is not enough of the benefit to distribute to all who qualify or because the benefit is seen as discretionary rather than based on need. Examples of limited-supply benefits include enrollment slots in Head Start, public housing units, financial aid for education, and job training.

In the case of limited-supply benefits, only after all income-eligible married, two-parent families are offered the benefit should it become available for income-eligible, single-parent families. Until the late 1960s, welfare benefits did frequently privilege marriage--many public-housing projects, for example, gave preference to low-income married couples over single heads of households--and the disappearance of marriage in low-income neighborhoods corresponds with the dismantling of this preference for the married poor.

Of course, certain benefits ought to remain universally available, especially nutrition, immunization, and health-care programs. Privileging marriage in the distribution of limited-supply benefits will not only strengthen marriage in the family receiving the benefit but will "seed" married families back into low-income communities to serve as role models for others.

The above article, which was published in November, 1997, was substantially edited from the original, which was published by the Hudson Institute in March, 1997. The language in the original was much more punitive towards single-parent (read: single mother) families. The original has been deleted from the WWW, but the Wayback Machine retrieved a copy of it. Bold emphasis is in the original


Given that marriage is the most effective long-term escape route out of welfare dependency, states should take advantage of the recently enacted welfare reform legislation and make the following changes in welfare policy to provide strong and unambiguous incentives for marriage:

First, eliminate systemic preferences that give advantages to single-parent families over two-parent, married families. As discussed earlier, the AFDC program generally has had a variety of eligibility rules that are more restrictive for two-parent, than single-parent, households, creating disincentives for marriage. In determining eligibility of families for welfare assistance, states should eliminate the 100-hour rule, the work history rules, and the 30-day waiting period, and allow substantially higher earnings and asset disregards for low-income, married couples than for single-parent households. The good news here is that a significant number of states have already eliminated many of these anti-marriage rules, especially the 100-hour rule, through the federal waiver process. Now that states can alter the rules without a federal waiver, every state that has not yet done so should aggressively move to eliminate these onerous provisions.

Second, give preference to two-parent, married households for certain "limited- supply" welfare benefits. Not every welfare benefit is universally available to everyone who meets income eligibility requirements. Some benefits are of limited supply, either because there is not enough of the benefit to distribute to all who qualify or because the benefit is seen as discretionary rather than based on need. Examples of limited-supply benefits include enrollment slots in Head Start, public housing units, financial aid for education expenditures, and job training.

In the case of limited-supply benefits, a decision rule must be used to determine who actually receives the benefit. Heretofore, the decision rule has been either "first come, first served" or "the most in need," which often means single-parent households. If we are serious about encouraging marriage and, by extension, fatherhood, we should make these limited-supply benefits available first to married, two-parent families. Only after all income-eligible married, two-parent families are offered the benefit should it become available for income-eligible, single-parent families.

Some will argue that such a policy is unfair; that single-parent households are, in fact, the most in need. That argument, however, ignores the fact that until the late 1960s welfare benefits did frequently privilege marriage; many public housing projects, for example, gave preference to low-income married couples over single heads of households, and the disappearance of marriage in low-income neighborhoods corresponds with the dismantling of this preference for the married poor. Thus, if we want to revitalize marriage in low-income neighborhoods, we will have to reverse the current preference for single-parent households and favor married couples.

Shifting funding from single parents to more "appropriate" married parents had been axed because it was too obviously punitive and discriminatory. Nonetheless, current fatherhood projects and marriage initiatives are not only just as dangerous, they have never been proven to work. While fatherhood and marriage promotions have received funding and publicity, mothers who need assistance have been ordered to work longer hours (even if they have very young children) and child care funding has been cut. So, those "other family types" are being neglected.

Here is a list of the coalition of groups who opposed Wade Horn's nomination for the very reasons about which Sylvester waxed poetic:

Abortion Access Project
ACORN
AIDS Action Committee
Alternatives to Marriage Project
American Ethical Union
Applied Research Center
Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Association of Reproductive Health Professionals
Boston Coalition of Black Women
Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Business and Professional Women/USA
Center for Community Change
Center for Reproductive Law and Policy
Center for Third World Organizing
Center for Women Policy Studies
Center on Fathers, Families and Public Policy
Chicago Jobs Council
Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women's Network
Children’s Foundation
Choice USA
Coalition Against Poverty
Coalition for Ethical Welfare Reform
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights
Coalition of Labor Union Women
Colorado Center on Law and Policy
Communications Workers of America
Community Voices Heard
Democrats.com
Displaced Homemakers Network of New Jersey
Empire State Pride Agenda
EMPOWER
Family Economic Initiative
Family Planning Advocates of New York State
Feminist Majority
Finding Common Ground Project at Columbia University
Grassroots Organizing for Welfare Leadership (GROWL)
Hawaii Coalition for the Prevention of Sexual Assault
Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Hesed House
inMotion, Inc.
Institute for Wisconsin's Future
Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Jewish Women International
Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger & Homelessness
Make the Road by Walking
Massachusetts Welfare Rights Union
McAuley Institute
Men for Gender Justice
MOTHERS Now
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
National Association of Commissions for Women
National Black Women's Health Project
National Center on Poverty Law
National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs
National Employment Law Project
National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
National Organization for Women (NOW)
National Women's Conference
National Women’s Political Caucus
New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project
9to5, National Association of Working Women
Nontraditional Employment For Women
North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Northeast Missouri Client Council for Human Needs
Northeast Washington Rural Resources Dev. Assoc
NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund
PADS, Inc
Pennsylvania Lesbian and Gay Task Force
People United for Families
Planned Parenthood of New York City
Poor People's United Front
Progressive Challenge Project, Institute for Policy Studies
Public Justice Center
Rural Law Center
Sociologists for Women in Society
Survivors Inc.
Texas Council on Family Violence
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Voters For Choice Action Fund
WEEL (Working for Equality and Economic Liberation)
Welfare, Education, Training Access Coalition
Welfare Law Center
Welfare Made a Difference Campaign
Welfare Rights Organizing Coalition
Welfare Warriors
Women's Center at the University of Oregon
Women's Committee Of 100
Women Employed
Women's Environment and Development Organization
Women's Housing and Economic Development
Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press
Women's Institute for Leadership Development
Women's Law Project

Posted on March 2, 2004 at 09:33 AM | Permalink

Comments

The wayback machine always pays off for pesky edits.

I take the anti-single-parent shit very personally, and this crap was rightly opposed. I will marry no man for support. And frankly, with all the bullshit circulating around the marriage issue, I'm loathe to get married at all.

I'll take a civil union, thank you, or nothing.

Posted by: Lauren at Mar 2, 2004 1:00:57 PM