Bill Murchison

True (according to The Wall Street Journal), "By more than 7 percentage points, more married people identify as Republican than Democrats ... " That statistic could give you a less-than-complete view of the Bush administration's pro-marriage proposals. You might think in that circumstance, "Shame! -- taxpayer money for programs helping Republicans out-marry and out-breed the opposition."

Not quite. Marriage is a matter more complicated than that, particularly with so many gays clamoring nowadays for marriage rights and so many conservatives touting a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage officially as a heterosexual project.

It is not hard to see how we got to this point, amazing as the point would have seemed four or five decades ago. Marriage, which logically and generally precedes family, is the central human institution. It nourishes belief; it forms and shapes behavior. On marriage all social undertakings rest. Does marriage concern or interest government? If it doesn't, nothing does.

The Bush marriage proposal, costing $1.5 billion over five years, aims at

fostering "healthy marriages" among the poor, with whom such marriages are less common. The money would go for counseling services, marriage enrichment and the like. At precisely that notion, blood boils in certain veins. A libertarian spokesman for one prominent think tank sniffs, "1965-style Great Society liberalism" -- meaning do-gooding at taxpayer expense.

The impeachment has its ironic side. Great Society liberalism has been fingered (by scholar Charles Murray among others) as one of the causes of family decline from the '60s forward. A Murray-ite could argue that what the government undid (by encouraging welfare dependence) it now should work to restore (by funding marriage enrichment and so on).

The intensely private nature of marriage works against a $1.5 billion government spending program or, for that matter, a $1.5 trillion one; though it probably should be said that, compared with ventures on which the government wastes far more than $1.5 billion, marriage enrichment doesn't seem unworthy.

However, the essentially religious nature of marriage may be what most desperately needs recovering. Here, the First Amendment excludes government but not the churches.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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