Marriage: The New New Thing - 11/16/08

Smartmarriages smartmarriages at
Sat Nov 15 12:56:24 EST 2008

The Obamas can be model for marriage
Atlanta Journal Constitution
November 16, 2008
Cynthia Tucker

President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, are members of a
minority: They are a black married couple.

Wed 16 years in October, the Obamas conceived their two daughters, Malia,
10, and Sasha, 7, after the wedding. While that kind of traditional
couplehood is losing popularity in every corner of the country, it has all
but disappeared in black America, where more than 70 percent of children are
born outside marriage.

In 2006, The Washington Post published an op-ed essay by writer Joy Jones
with the provocative headline ³Marriage Is for White People.² The headline
didn¹t reflect Jones¹ views; it repeated ³what one of my students told me
some years back when I taught a career exploration class for sixth-graders
at an elementary school in southeast Washington.

³I think I¹ll invite some couples in to talk about being married and rearing
children,² she told the class. ² ŒOh, no,¹ objected one student. ŒWe¹re not
interested in the part about marriage. Only about how to be good fathers.¹
And that¹s when the other boy chimed in Š ŒMarriage is for white people.¹ ³

That sixth-grader was likely reflecting his environment, which may not have
included many black married couples. While 62 percent of white adults and 60
percent of Latino adults are married, only 41 percent of black adults are.

The Obamas are already burdened by the baggage of cultural expectations, but
I¹ll go ahead and add another sack to their load: Here¹s hoping their
presence on the national stage will erase that sixth-grader¹s wrongheaded
notion. Marriage is an equal-opportunity institution, no matter color, creed
or sexual orientation.

³I was really excited when I saw the Obama family on the [TV] screen [on
Nov. 4] because I meet so many young African-Americans who, frankly, have
never seen an intact family like this,² said Leah Ward Sears, chief justice
of the Georgia Supreme Court and a board member of the Institute for
American Values, which promotes marriage. ³I¹m hopeful [the Obamas] will be
a brand-new model of what the ideal is, even if many, many of us will fall
short of the ideal,² she added.

Certainly, millions of law-abiding and accomplished adults grew up in
nontraditional households ‹ reared by single moms or single dads or
grandparents. It¹s also true that many noncustodial parents, who are usually
fathers, are actively engaged with their children, boosting their chances
for successful lives. Still, a significant body of research emphasizes that,
all other things being equal, children are better off with two loving,
responsible parents who are married to each other. Those kids are less
likely to engage in drug abuse or risky sexual behavior and more likely to
do well in school.

Moreover, fathers are more likely to stay connected with their children if
they are married to the kids¹ mom. ³There is a saying in social research, ŒA
mother is a mother all of your life, but a father is a father only when he
has a wife,¹ ² Justice Sears said.

Indeed, research also suggests that marriage is good for adults.

³Compared with unmarried people, married men and women tend to have lower
mortality, less risky behavior, more monitoring of health, more compliance
with medical regimens, higher sexual frequency, more satisfaction with their
sexual lives, more savings and higher wages,² according to ³Cohabitation,
Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the United States,² a 2002 study
sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yet, the institution of marriage is under severe stress. Though the
idealized intact family remains a mainstay of popular culture, married
couples represent only half of all households in the United States. And the
trend toward unmarried parenthood has affected white and brown America, too,
a fact highlighted by Sarah Palin¹s pregnant daughter, Bristol. About 27
percent of white children are now born outside marriage, as are about 42
percent of Latino children.

There isn¹t much a President Obama can do about that except continue to
present his family as an alternative ‹ a very attractive alternative. Who
knows? The new, new thing could be marriage.

€ Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor. Her column appears Sundays and


Just in case you want to read it again, here are core remarks from the
speech President-elect Obama made at The Apostolic Church of God in Chicago
this Father's Day, June 15, 2008:

Good morning. It¹s good to be home on this Father¹s Day with my girls, and
it¹s an honor to spend some time with all of you today in the house of our
Lord. . . 

. . . .Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today
that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor
how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and
coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and
the men who constantly push us toward it.

But if we are honest with ourselves, we¹ll admit that what too many fathers
also are is missing ‹ missing from too many lives and too many homes. They
have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And
the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.

    You and I know how true this is in the African-American community. We
know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent
households, a number that has doubled ‹ doubled ‹ since we were children. We
know the statistics ‹ that children who grow up without a father are five
times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more
likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in
prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from
home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our
community are weaker because of it.

    How many times in the last year has this city lost a child at the hands
of another child? How many times have our hearts stopped in the middle of
the night with the sound of a gunshot or a siren? How many teenagers have we
seen hanging around on street corners when they should be sitting in a
classroom? How many are sitting in prison when they should be working, or at
least looking for a job? How many in this generation are we willing to lose
to poverty or violence or addiction? How many?

    Yes, we need more cops on the street. Yes, we need fewer guns in the
hands of people who shouldn¹t have them. Yes, we need more money for our
schools, and more outstanding teachers in the classroom, and more
afterschool programs for our children. Yes, we need more jobs and more job
training and more opportunity in our communities.

    But we also need families to raise our children. We need fathers to
realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to
realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child ‹ it¹s
the courage to raise one.

    We need to help all the mothers out there who are raising these kids by
themselves; the mothers who drop them off at school, go to work, pick up
them up in the afternoon, work another shift, get dinner, make lunches, pay
the bills, fix the house, and all the other things it takes both parents to
do. So many of these women are doing a heroic job, but they need support.
They need another parent. Their children need another parent. That¹s what
keeps their foundation strong. It¹s what keeps the foundation of our country
strong. . . . 

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