Marriage: A New Conservative Issue

"With these rings. . . "

By Mike McManus

The most important statement made in the recent Presidential debate was by former Sen. Rick Santorum, who pointed to the economic importance of marriage – an issue mentioned by no one else.  It should become a fresh issue for conservatives.

He said “The biggest problem with poverty in America…is the breakdown of the American family.  Look at the poverty rate among families that have a husband and wife.  It’s five percent today.  A family that’s headed by one person? It’s 30 percent today.”

“We need to do something.  “The word `home’ in Greek is the basis of the word `economy.’  It is the foundation of our country.  We need to have a policy that supports families, that encourages marriage… that has fathers take responsibility for their children. You can’t have limited government–you can’t have a wealthy society if the family breaks down, that basic unit of society.”

Santorum is right.  According to Pat Fagan at the Family Research Council, only 45% of American teenagers are living with their married parents.  More than half of teens “live in families where their biological parents have rejected each other.”

Census reports that in 2008, of 12.8 million teenagers aged 15-17, only 5.8 million lived with their married parents and 7 million were living with one birth parent only, though some may have stepparents, or with cohabiting parents, or with grandparents.

Asian kids have the most cohesive homes, with 62% living with married parents.  But that is not high.

Slightly more than half of white kids (54%) have married parents, but only 40% of Hispanics and a dismal 17% of African-American youth.

David Usher, President of a new Center for Marriage Policy in St. Louis asserts, “Marriage absence is the primary driver of poverty, the shrinking middle class, growing tax burdens and fewer taxpayers, high incarceration rates, high taxes on business and subsequent exodus of jobs and factories to foreign soil, and many problems of children: poor school performance, involvement in gangs and the drug culture, teen pregnancy and incarceration.

“Rebuilding heterosexual marriage as the social norm is the necessary structural foundation for successful American socioeconomic reconstruction.” (See

Unemployment is often seen as the nation’s top economic problem.  However, when joblessness doubled in recent years from 5% to 10%, the poverty rate only rose 1%.

As illegitimacy soared from 5% in 1960 to 41% in 2010, the percentage of households receiving government benefits soared along the same path. Census reported that the percentage of people living in households getting government benefits rose from 28% in 1983 to 48.5% in 2010.

Nearly half of Americans are getting government subsidies!

The lack of marriage is the primary reason.  For the first time, Census reports that only 48% of American adults are married – a drop of 30% in recent decades.

How can that trend be reversed, and marriage rates be increased?

If I were a panelist with Republican candidates, here are three questions I’d ask, with the answers I would most like to hear:

1.      Should government stop subsidizing cohabitation, and subsidize marriage?

Answer: Yes.  If elected, I would tell cohabiting couples, many of whom are getting Medicaid, housing and day care subsidies, that if they marry, the benefits would continue for two years and then taper off.  Marriage rates would rise, and government costs would drop in time.
2.      Should cohabiting couples who have babies get welfare, Medicaid, etc.?

Answer: No.  More than half of unwed births are to women living with man, who benefit from his salary as if they were married.  Government has assumed that if a woman has an unwed birth that she will bring up the child alone.

3.      Should states require parents considering divorce to take a course on the impact of divorce on children before filing, and then be required to wait a year during which the couple takes classes to improve their conflict resolution skills?

Answer: Yes, I support the Parental Divorce Reduction Act that is being considered by a dozen states with those provisions which it calls a “One Year Reconciliation and Reflection Period.”

At present 25 “Hot Head States” have no waiting period, or only 20-60 days, which allows no time for reconciliation.  Maryland, Pennsylvania and Illinois require up to two years, if the divorce is contested. Their divorce rates are 34% lower than 10 Hot Head States such as Wyoming, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Alabama, Maine, Arizona, and Kansas.

It should not be even controversial for states like North and South Carolina  that already require a year to add the educational components.

Marriage is the answer.

Copyright © Mike McManus  (President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist.)

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