Kids just want a two-parent family

Posted: Jan 28, 2004 12:00 AM
It's the political season, so perhaps you can hardly blame people.

For three years, the Bush administration has wanted to pass a new welfare reform law, one that includes a couple hundred million dollars a year to help strengthen marriage in poor communities, thus reducing unmarried childbearing, saving the taxpayers a bundle, and giving more kids the protection of a married mom and dad.

Over the last decade, a consensus has emerged that, for children, marriage matters. Here, for example, is how two center-left child welfare organizations report the news:

  • Child Trends: "Research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps the most is a family headed by two-biological parents in a low-conflict marriage. Children in single-parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in stepfamilies or cohabiting relationships face higher risks of poor outcomes. ... There is thus value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents."

  • A Center for Law and Social Policy Brief concludes: "Research indicates that, on average, children who grow up in families with both their biological parents in a low-conflict marriage are better off in a number of ways than children who grow up in single-, step- or cohabiting-parent households."

    But oh, that M-word. A New York Times front-page story about the politics of marriage and same-sex marriage sparked an orgy of liberal denunciation of the president's initiative.

    Laura Kipnis, the new "Down-With-Love" girl on the Times op-ed page, snatched the chance to prove that millions of single mothers are marching away from marriage in ideological unity with herself. "The administration may think that low-income Americans need to be taught better communication and listening skills, but actually they're communicating just fine. Conservatives just don't like the message being communicated, which is this: We don't want to get married."

    Earth to Laura: Actually, according to the Fragile Families Study, the vast majority of unmarried mothers in urban neighborhoods are interested in marriage. Only 19 percent of all unmarried mothers (and 3 percent of cohabiting unwed mothers) say there is no chance they will marry their baby's father. Half of cohabiting mothers of newborns say that they are almost certain they will marry, yet few actually do. What is so bad about helping these poor mothers achieve their dreams?

    Even the normally judicious William Raspberry denounced the proposal as a "cynical ploy," saying: "The only pragmatic purpose I can see for his idea is that it might please his supporters on the religious right -- particularly if he yields to their pressure to define healthy marriages as traditional marriages (no gays or lesbians, thank you)."

    The irony is that meanwhile, President Bush gets no kudos from the religious right, where fears are flying that the marriage initiative is merely a "cynical ploy" designed to distract attention from the gay marriage issue.

    Despite the politics, the fear, the cynicism, the intellectual silliness from the anti-marriage crowd, in the end I suspect President Bush is onto something bigger than conservative or liberal, bigger than Democrat or Republican. Something bigger even than being pro- or anti-George W. Bush.

    Darrin Chandler went to a marriage ed program made available to low-income couples by the state of Arizona. He told The New York Times it saved his marriage, drowning in financial debt and the conflict that creates. And then he confessed, "I wanted so bad for my marriage to last."

    A lot of people feel that way. Including a lot of poor people. Maybe when the political fever runs its course, more people will realize the simple truth: Nobody dreams of growing up to be an unmarried mom or a deadbeat dad. Marriage is what people want. And a married mom and dad is what poor kids, as well as rich kids, deserve.