Marry or Burn

The White House's new anti-poverty program: Shotgun weddings

Even cultural conservatives concede that there's little proof that the programs work. "State and local-level marriage initiatives seem overall to be running their course, without yielding hard proof of success, and without new initiatives emerging to replace them," David Blankenhorn wrote last year in the Center for the American Experiment's American Experiment Quarterly. "Little credible evidence exists that current grassroots marriage initiatives are achieving success in improving the quality and stability of marriage, or reducing unwed childbearing and unnecessary divorce."

Worse, he laments, "the Bush administration's current marriage initiative...while serving as the major 'public policy face' of the marriage movement, is quite modest in its scope, relevant only to a tiny fraction of the American adult population and not currently able to win broad political support in Congress. Even were it to become law, it would be highly unlikely to make more than a small dent in the problem of non-marriage in the inner city."

A recent New York Times editorial was more succinct. Bush's plan, the paper declared, is a "very expensive version of spitting into the wind."

Contrarily, some of Bush's most ardent right-wing backers are grumbling that the initiative is far too tentative. In the wake of the decision two weeks ago by the Massachusetts state Supreme Court that gays and lesbians have a right to marry, the religious right is hounding Bush to crusade for a constitutional amendment declaring marriage a union between one man and one woman.

Nonetheless, the White House's marriage initiative appears poised to pass both the U.S House and Senate when welfare reform comes up for renewal next month. In fact, the House version of the bill would put an extra $100,000 toward the program.

White House aides say Bush will visit marriage-promotion programs in poor neighborhoods in coming months. "The president loves to do that sort of thing in the inner city with black churches," one told the New York Times. "And he's very good at it."

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