Jokes aside, Keating is a real leader on the marriage issue, the only governor in America to make reducing divorce an important goal -- and also come up with a plan to help make it happen. Keating is using $10 million in unspent TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) funds to use "existing government structures," as he put it, to help promote marriage. Social service caseworkers, public health nurses, counselors and educators are going to be educated about the importance of marriage for children's well-being and the existence of marriage skills programs.
A new marriage scholar-in-residence at the state university is available to provide expert guidance and help evaluate outcomes. He's eliminated the "marriage penalty" in the state welfare system so it no longer favors cohabitation over marriage. Using the power of the bully pulpit, he's called together religious leaders to promote community marriage covenants and better marriage education and preparation.
What prompted Frank Keating to become a leader in this issue? Pure economics, he told us. Early on he commissioned a report on why Oklahoma was lagging behind America economically. Along with standard analyses about taxes and regulation, he said he "turned the page" and there he learned for the first time that high rates of divorce and unwed childbearing were also helping retard economic growth in his state. Labor economists know this, but few politicians do: Marriage is a wealth-producing institution, as important maybe as education in preventing poverty and promoting economic growth.
Keating deserves kudos for leading on a vital new issue in a way that unites rather than divides Oklahomans. Cheney may be winner of the veepstakes, but when the dust settles, in Keating a new national star may just have been born.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.
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