Has the cause of family values been diminished in this country? Matt Daniels, executive director of the Alliance for Marriage, thinks so -- and is determined to do something about it.
Daniels, whose father left him and his mother to fend for themselves in Spanish Harlem when Daniels was just 2 years old, is an unlikely advocate for two-parent families. After all, he is living proof that kids from single-parent families can excel in our society.
He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1985 Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude, and obtained a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1996. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in American politics at Brandeis University.
So, what is Daniels so exercised about? As a student of government and law, he understands that America's system of ordered liberty is dependent on an underlying infrastructure of moral values. Despite the genius of our Constitution, our freedoms will eventually collapse if the moral pillars undergirding them disintegrate.
This idea that the Constitution alone is not sufficient to sustain our liberties is no insult to the framers. They clearly understood this truth.
That's what John Adams meant when he said: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other." Similarly, Washington wrote, "Of all the dispositions and habits that lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports."
Daniels understands that these are more than lofty words. Family values are at the root of America's greatness. Yet they are under assault from powerful forces today.
Both major political parties acknowledge the fundamental importance of morality and family values in our society. Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman, who used the Adams and Washington quotes in a recent speech, has made such issues a central part of his campaign message.
Republicans have been promoting these themes for years, long before Dan Quayle's "Murphy Brown" speech.
Daniels, however, is concerned that the parties have sometimes allowed "family values" to become a surrogate for their partisan agendas. Politicians have so overused "children" and "family" that their meanings have been lost in a semantic jungle. To Daniels, "family values" has a specific meaning whose importance transcends politics.
A new Wirthin poll confirms that a great majority of Americans are convinced that marriage and families should be among our highest political priorities, more important than a clean environment (say 77 percent); a greater priority than increasing job opportunities (64 percent). Indeed, 92 percent say we cannot move forward as a nation without strengthening our families.
The Alliance for Marriage intends to put meaning back into the phrase "family values," to communicate that marriage and two-parent families are at its core. Two-parent families are not just important to their children, they are crucial to a healthy society. AFM points out that "a large and growing body of social science research indicates that the union of a man and woman in marriage is the single most beneficial social institution in the world."
Married men and women live longer, experience less depression, alcoholism and substance abuse, and have higher income and savings levels. Children of married parents experience less poverty, fewer emotional and psychological problems, lower rates of criminal behavior and substance abuse, and higher levels of educational achievement.
While too many politicians have been reluctant to boldly defend marriage, AFM has formulated an ambitious, non-partisan agenda to restore the sanctity of the institution.
"The goal here is not to blame single parents," Daniels says, emphasizing the often heroic efforts single mothers and fathers make to rear their children alone. "It's simply to get the word out about an important social truth."
In furtherance of refurbishing marriage and restoring a culture of married fatherhood in American society, AFM will work to reduce the tax burden on married families with children, attain increased tax incentives for adoption by married couples, require marital reconciliation counseling as a precondition to divorce, eliminate all welfare policies that penalize married welfare recipients, fund public-education programs emphasizing the importance of marriage and support community efforts encouraging fathers to commit to marriage.
It is refreshing that another powerful voice has emerged to challenge the nostrums of political correctness. Godspeed to Matt Daniels and the Alliance for Marriage.