It Takes a Wedding - 11/14/02
cmfce at smartmarriages.com
Wed Nov 13 10:12:55 EST 2002
subject: It Takes a Wedding - 11/14/02
from: Smart Marriages®
I guess this gives us a pretty good preview of what to expect tomorrow
night. Alex Kotlowitz is the correspondent for the "Frontline" program,
"Let's Get Married," that airs on PBS tomorrow, Thurs, Nov 14th, 9pm.
The times, they definitely are a changing ...and journalists - as they
sort out and "report" the changes - are themselves big agents of change.
This also gives you an opportunity to make news. Call and alert your local
stations to the fact that this show is airing - use this NY Times article
and the press release I sent last week to get them started. Suggest they do
a local discussion group following the show about what's going on in your
community to strengthen marriage or help them with a follow-up article.
Press release is at:
It Takes a Wedding
November 13, 2002
By ALEX KOTLOWITZ
CHICAGO - With the Republican victory last week, Congress
now appears likely to set aside funding for programs that
promote marriage among the poor. A friend who provides
services for inner-city children declared this marriage
push "nuts." That had been my initial reaction, as well.
But now I wonder if the conservatives who are driving this
effort might be on to something.
There's a shift in the winds in our inner cities. On the
heels of a fatherhood movement (which, incidentally, also
had conservative roots), more and more young couples are
considering marriage. A long-term study of 5,000 low-income
couples has found that eight of 10 who have a child
together have plans to marry. "I was out in the field all
of the time, interviewing low-income single mothers," Kathy
Edin, a sociologist at Northwestern University, told me.
"And what really struck me in those interviews was how many
people talked about the desire to get married. And I would
go back, you know, and talk to my friends in academia and
they would say, 'Oh, they can't mean that.' But I would
hear it again and again."
Might marriage be making a comeback in communities where
the vast majority of children are born to single parents? A
minister on Chicago's West Side told me that when he began
preaching there 10 years ago, his congregation scoffed at
his efforts to foster matrimony. But this year his church
co-sponsored an event called "Celebrating Contentment," in
which long-married couples testified to their happiness
together. Last summer, there was such demand for the
minister's weekly marriage enrichment workshops that he had
to put some parishioners on a waiting list. In Baltimore,
Joe Jones, who runs a program to promote fatherhood, is
adding marriage classes to his curriculum. And the Nation
of Islam, which organized the Million Man March, has now
taken up the mantle of marriage, declaring it "a social
institution in need of restoration."
Marriage can be treacherous terrain. In 1965, Daniel
Patrick Moynihan, then a young official in the Department
of Labor, issued a report titled "The Negro Family: The
Case for National Action." It suggested that the breakdown
of the black family - one-third of all black children at
the time lived with only one parent - was keeping
African-Americans from finding their way into the middle
class. Mr. Moynihan was pilloried by progressives; he was
accused of blaming the victim. Liberals essentially
abdicated the discussion about family to the conservatives,
and have had a tough time finding their way back since.
But there is now growing consensus among social scientists
that, all things being equal, two parents are best for
children. It would seem to follow that two-parent families
are also best for a community. It may take a village to
raise a child, but it takes families to build a village.
While liberals haven't done enough to emphasize the
importance of marriage in reinforcing the bonds that hold
society together, conservatives have put too much faith in
the power of marriage alone to lift people out of poverty.
In 1988, Vince Lane, then the director of the Chicago
Housing Authority, was conducting top-to-bottom searches of
public housing high-rises, looking for guns and drugs. But
the discovery that most dismayed him was the large number
of men living with their girlfriends illegally. They
weren't on the lease. In the raids, Mr. Lane found them
hiding in closets and in bathtubs and in laundry baskets.
At one high-rise, Mr. Lane got fed up. He told the men they
could stay - if they got married. So the city hosted an
all-expenses-paid (honeymoon included) eight-couple shotgun
What's happened to the couples since? Most have split up,
which should come as no surprise. The stress of not having
money, of living in decrepit housing, of sending children
to poorly funded schools would take its toll on even the
most committed relationship. So how then might we help get
couples to the altar? By pushing marriage? Or by helping
ease the strains in people's lives?
It would be wrongheaded to encourage marriage by
stigmatizing single parenthood, a process that has already
begun with the reintroduction of the word "illegitimacy"
into the lexicon. After all, that's the very constituency
the government is trying to reach.
Wade Horn, the Bush administration official who oversees
the welfare program, has assured critics that the
administration, by supporting demonstration projects that
promote marriage, doesn't intend to coerce people to the
altar. And, indeed, what tools government has available -
like the relationship training seminars Oklahoma has begun
to offer - seem benign enough, if unproven.
When it comes to social engineering, government has turned
out to be a clumsy catalyst. Mr. Moynihan, whose report was
in many ways prescient - the numbers he cited for black
families in 1965 now apply to all families, regardless of
race - has said, "If you expect government to change
families, you know more about government than I do."
Even if conservatives don't know how to get there, at least
they recognize that marriage, this very private
institution, has very public consequences. Liberals, who
have a much firmer understanding of the obstacles poor
people face, need to enter that conversation.
Alex Kotlowitz, author of "There Are No Children Here," is
correspondent for the forthcoming "Frontline" program,
"Let's Get Married."
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