Married to the State

Posted: Feb 03, 2014 10:07 AM

This article first appeared in the February issue of Townhall Magazine.

Marriage is a little bit terrifying.

Just think about it. It joins two individuals with their own sets of aspirations, habits, quirks, fiscal responsibilities, and families in a binding contract...‘til death do you part.

If consenting to lifelong codependence is not slightly petrifying, I don’t know what is. Except, perhaps, becoming codependent without consenting.

Welcome to the new progressivist union: marriage to the state. It’s an institution enabled by Big Government and for Big Government through federal incentives and services; where cohabitation and living alone comes with more financial perks than marriage, and a dependence on the state is an easier path than developing a real and lasting personal relationship.


Marriage peaked as an institution in the United States in 1950, when approximately 65 percent of all women were married. Today, less than half of women 15 and over are married (47 percent to be exact), the lowest percentage on record.

Before he was even governor of California, let alone President of the United States, Ronald Reagan knew that government welfare programs undermined the American family. In his famous “A Time for Choosing” speech, given before the 1964 election, Reagan recounted:

“Not too long ago, a judge called me here in Los Angeles. He told me of a young woman who’d come before him for a divorce. She had six children, was pregnant with her seventh. Under his questioning, she revealed her husband was a laborer earning 250 dollars a month. She wanted a divorce to get an 80 dollar raise. She’s eligible for 330 dollars a month in the Aid to Dependent Children Program. She got the idea from two women in her neighborhood who’d already done that very thing.”

Conservatives have been fighting for the American family ever since, while the progressive movement and the Democratic Party have been pushing back on the side of Big Government. Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute, explains, “It’s an old collectivist dream to do something about the family.”


Collectivists seek to replace the natural dependency between two people with interdependence only on the state, Morse outlined. “They think that’s going to make people more free, and I think that’s crazy. I just don’t see how that could be!”

This ruse has been used as one of the leading arguments for feminists, who claim these sorts of policies will completely liberate women from dependence on men, according to Morse.

“What I want to say is that she is not independent. You’ve just transferred her dependency from her child’s father, who might actually care about her personally, who might actually care about the child personally, to a dependence on the government,” Morse said.

This transfer of dependency becomes an important tool in elections, Morse explained. “If the individuals are dependent on the government, they are going to continue to vote for the parties and platforms that keep the money coming, rather than anything that would really foster upward mobility,” Morse continued. “This is a trap, just basically, a poverty-centered trap.”

The result of this scheme is a voter base that relies on government programs for its very livelihood. And it’s working.

Just look at how women voted in the 2012 presidential election.

Exit polls showed that the majority of non-married females (67 percent) supported President Obama, while married women were less inclined to support his policies, with less than half (46 percent) giving him their vote.

And this was by design. Remember “Julia”? Obama’s campaign created an interactive web product that invited users to follow the life of Julia from the age of 3 to the age of 67. Throughout the slideshow Julia gets an education, a job, has a child, a career, and retires. All with generous and continuous help from the federal government. But at no point is Julia shown interacting with a man, or getting married. Family, the building block of civil society, is completely written out of the script.

And Democrats have continued this anti-family message in their pitch for Obamacare as well., a group that received generous funding from the federal government, created one ad showing an overly eager woman with an open grin, a box of birth control pills, and a man’s hand poised on her hip. She seems elated over the new possibilities she’s provided through her health care plan.

“Let’s Get Physical,” the ad begins, and the accompanying text actually reads: “OMG, he’s hot! Let’s hope he’s as easy to get as this birth control. My health insurance covers the pill, which means all I have to worry about is getting him between the covers.”

This, apparently, is female liberation. However, as Morse put it, “the woman without a husband is not really free. She’s not really independent. She’s transferred her dependence from a personal relationship to a bureaucratic and commercial relationship. We’re breaking down the family whole into a series of commercial transactions.”


Obamacare’s attack on the American family extends far beyond tasteless advertising. Two marriage penalties enshrined in Obamacare are proof of the government’s continued efforts to erode traditional marriage.

Consider this: the Affordable Care Act requires married couples to combine their incomes when filing for health care coverage. While two single persons earning $40,000 a year may qualify for sizeable government subsidies, the same two people married would receive no subsidies at all. Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, gives the following example:

“A young couple without children, age 20, each making $20,000, would receive $4,317 more in health benefits each year if they cohabit rather than marry. Slipping on the wedding ring would cut the couple’s annual disposable income by more than 10 percent. Rather than pay this new wedding tax, the couple is likely to postpone marriage or forego it entirely.”

Anti-marriage penalties increase as couples age, wrote Rector, resulting in an effective tax of up to $10,000 per year for couples who simply want to remain married.

This “divorce incentive,” so dubbed by Hans Bader, a senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, forces married couples to pay thousands of dollars more to the state per year than their non-married peers. Rector notes that a 50-year-old couple with a joint income of $40,000 could save more than $50,000 over the course of a decade by getting divorced.

A second Obamacare marriage penalty hits high-income couples through a tax surcharge. The bill puts into place a 0.9 percent tax on wage income and a 3.8 percent tax on unearned income.

As America Next Policy Director Chris Jacobs recently explained, both taxes hit couples who are married harder:

“The thresholds for the tax are at $200,000 for a single individual, but $250,000 for a couple. As with the insurance subsidy formula, this new tax will automatically penalize married couples because the tax threshold for couples is less than twice the threshold for single individuals.”


Growing federal programs such as food stamps, public housing vouchers, Medicaid, Medicare, and social services all tend to create a culture where low-income Americans find reliance on the government more beneficial than a union with a marriage partner.

“A low income mother and father can very easily find it beneficial to remain unmarried rather than marry between the various means-tested programs that have marriage penalties\ built into them,” Morse explains. “Obamacare is just one more example of that.”

These penalties, or anti-marriage incentives, do nothing to soothe a society already suffering from marriage degradation. The erosion of marriage has been intensifying since the 1960s sexual revolution, according to The Heritage Foundation’s Director of Domestic Policy Studies Jennifer Marshall.

Changes in sexual behavior patterns and a rise in unwed childbearing began to contribute to a new era where “all you need is love,” as John Lennon penned.

“These factors in our culture have been exacerbated by the kinds of government policies that have not been encouraging marriage and have, in some cases, served to erode marriage,” Marshall said.

“Marriage and family act as a buffer between the individual and the state, and the individual and government,” Marshall continued. “Because of that the family centered on marriage is a critical part of seeking a kind of society in which individuals can flourish and in which government does not try to overcompensate beyond what its designated, constitutional role is. The family centered on marriage is critically important to that vision of society that the founders had; the idea of a free society with a limited constitutional government.”

This so-called buffer creates economic stability through mini-authority structures. Columbia University empirically explored how married men have higher incomes than their single counterparts. Greater stability, increased motivation to put effort into their job, emotional support, and a developed sense of responsibility have all been posed as explanations for the “wife effect.”


Individuals who retreat from marriage have always tended to be more impoverished, and that link is only growing. According to “When Marriage Disappears: the New Middle America,” a 2010 study by the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values, marriage is shifting to an institute for the elite, a luxury item only accomplished by the few and unattainable by the majority:

“Over the last four decades, many Americans have moved away from identifying with an ‘institutional’ model of marriage, which seeks to integrate sex, parenthood, economic cooperation, and emotional intimacy in a permanent union.”

The ability to rely on the state for food, housing, and health programs removes the need to remain in a healthy relationship.

“Where marriage used to serve as the gateway to responsible adulthood, it has come to be increasingly seen as a capstone of sorts that signals couples have arrived, both financially and emotionally—or are on the cusp of arriving,” the report surmises.

Upward mobility, the capacity to climb to higher social or economic standing, is also greatly stunted when the building blocks of a family unit do not exist.

Children raised in intact families are more likely than their single-parented peers to pay attention in the classroom, score higher in verbal and reading skills, achieve greater proficiency in math and science, be supervised by their parents during social activities, and attend a four-year college, according to

“When marriage is eroded, when we see more and more children born outside of marriage, we see a lot more vulnerability to poverty,” said Marshall. “A child born and raised outside of marriage is five times more likely to be poor than his or her peers raised in an intact family.”

Marriage reduces the probability of child poverty by 82 percent, the 2009 United States Census revealed. An overwhelming 71 percent of poor families with children are led by single-parent households.

Earning potential and financial security increase in marriage, so shouldn’t the government be incentivizing individuals to marry rather than hitting them through marriage penalties?

While many seem to be increasingly relying on the government for their personal livelihood, it is impossible for a system to fulfill the very human needs found in a supportive family.

In a very real sense, the rise of government dependence undermines the natural human bonds formed in relationships. Children, for instance, need fathers.


Obama, while still acting as Illinois state senator, called the family the most important rock on which lives are built, and later noted that fathers are critical to its foundation. During a 2008 Father’s Day speech, he stated:

“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 20 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.”

But when Obama gave what has been billed by his supporters as the defining speech of his second term, a speech on inequality in America, he failed to mention the word “marriage” even once.

His entire speech was about how new government programs and expanded government power could better redistribute wealth in the United States. At no point did he make the case that stronger families are the true key to economic mobility and opportunity.

“We’ve known, that it isn’t really possible to replace a father with a check from the government,” Morse said of liberal welfare state policies. The dreams of those on the other side ignore the undeniable existence of humanity and the need for bonding.

The only party benefitting from the marriage breakdown is the government itself. It silently steps in to romanticize citizens with promises of self-reliance. In return, it strips them of safe havens, human ties and upward mobility.

Obamacare, laced with not one but two marriage penalties, betrays the progressive movement’s continued desire to force the population into a co-dependent relationship with the state. With this power the government dictates a voter base which must continue to support even the most overbearing of political parties as a means of income. It is far from the limited government idealized by the Founding Fathers. As lucidly phrased by Marshall:

“The erosion of family matters to all members of society. It calls into question some of the ways that we have always assumed we would provide for one another, through the family structure, from the most vulnerable days at the beginning of life to the most vulnerable days at the end of life.”

By targeting the bonds between husband and wife, the government is promoting the deterioration of civil society as a whole.

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