Unholy Matrimony

Politics and the President's Marriage Proposal

It doesn't take a complete cynic to sniff out the money trail. From defense spending to tax breaks for charity, Bush's Christian crusade has also been a mercenary mission. "We ought not allow the federal government to discriminate, when it comes to the distribution of federal money, against faith-based grassroots programs," the president has said. And, "faith-based initiatives is [sic] an integral part of the next step of welfare reform."

But in fact, religious organizations such as Lutheran Services in America and Catholic Charities U.S.A. have collected public funding for years. And Congress recently granted such institutions privileges denied their secular counterparts, permitting them to discriminate in hiring based on religion and exempting them from certain licensing and training requirements.

That $300 million in marriage money could merely whet appetites for a faith-based feeding frenzy. The Bush welfare plan proposes "super waivers" to allow states to spend monies meant for child care and job training with unprecedented flexibility. It's a macro version of a quiet federal initiative uncovered in late March, in which a few states were to be encouraged to seek waivers on child support rules and spend that money on marriage promotion.

The more Rector speaks, the less it seems anyone really intends marriage experimentation to solve poverty. He's already covering: "You usually start out with failure," he tells the Voice. "That's the nature of public policy."(That ill-fated $300 million could do more concrete good, say anti-poverty advocates, for instance as child care funding for working mothers.)

But "common sense and truth only get you so far in Congress," says the Senate aide. "It's gotten to the point where even the most progressive legislators have to offer some position on family formation." The Democratic leadership doth protest not much. Charles Rangel, Harlem resident and ranking member of the House committee that drafts welfare legislation, says, "Promoting healthy marriages is important, but the best way to do that is to find a way to get decent, permanent jobs for the people in marriages." And from New York's distinguished senators? Nada. The only outspoken critics, NOW feminists—90 percent of adult welfare recipients are women—have of course been labeled hostile and worse.

The void is felt. Says Rector, "I'm still waiting for a valid argument on the other side." Bush admitted at a February news conference previewing his welfare plan, "I sometimes get encapsulated in a bubble. It is important for me to, as often as I can, to [sic] hear the true stories of America." In other words, speak now, or forever hold your peace.

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