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The Marriage Movement
On May 9, Dan Quayle showed up at the Washington, DC-based National Press Club to celebrate the tenth anniversary of his memorable speech condemning the television character, Murphy Brown. In the days preceding the anniversary Quayle surfaced on a number of talking-head television programs and then marked the occasion by delivering an address called Ten Years after Murphy Brown: A Mothers Day Progress Report on the American Family.
In the course of defending his remarks of a decade ago, the former vice president expanded his list of offensive television fare by adding on Friends and Sex and the City. When asked his thoughts about the MTV series The Osbournes, the program documenting the Osbourne family in a reality TV format, Quayle, who confessed to having seen the show once, pointed out that You have to get beyond this sort of dysfunctional aspect. You have a mother and a father involved with their children they are loving parents.
Although expletives are bleeped out of The Osbournes,which has become one of MTVs highest rated shows evernevertheless, the Osbourne gang engages in frank discussion of alcohol, sexuality, and body odors, reports Mark Sandalow of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Compared to the hit series Murphy Brown, where Candace Bergen played a successful television journalist who became a single mother, at least the Osbournes are an intact family, Quayle added. Its a little bit different than our household. Im not encouraging anybody to live his life. But many of the things hes trying to say are positive.
Ten years ago, the reaction to Quayles Mur- phy Brown speech fell along predictable lines liberals jeered, seeing it as another in a series of election-year attacks on Hollywood. Conservatives were thrilled to hear Quayle bring the issue of single parent families under public scrutiny. Some conservatives even claim Quayles speech was a turning point in the war to save the family.
Quayles comments were the first volley of the contemporary marriage wars. During the past ten years, a substantial marriage movement has evolved. Marriage advocates dominated the 1996 welfare reform debate and are now key players in the debate over welfare reauthorization.
President Bushs $300 million initiative to encourage and promote heterosexual marriage is at the heart of his welfare reauthor- ization proposal, and it owes its existence, in large measure, to the marriage warriors at right-wing think tanks and foundations.
Blogging for marriage
Maggie Gallagher, a well established, conservative columnist, is a committed soldier in the marriage wars. Gallaghers opinion pieces and articles appear in the pages of the New Republic, the Wall Street Journal, National Review, Cosmopolitan, and the New York Times. According to her official biography posted at the Heritage Foundations TownHall. com, Gallaghers first book, Enemies of Eros: How the Sexual Revolution is Killing Family, Marriage and Sex, published by Bonus Books in 1989, was highly praised by Judge Robert Bork, who called it lucid, witty, profound, devastating. George Gilder pronounced it the best book ever written on men, women and marriage. She has written other books about marriage including, The Abolition of Marriage, (Simon & Schuster, 1996), which focused on the decline of marriage and its social consequences.
Her latest book, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially, co-authored with Linda Waite, was released in 2001. Gallagher, who has been an editor of National Review, senior editor of the Manhattan Institutes City Journal, and a senior fellow at the Center for Social Thought, is currently an affiliate scholar at the Institute for American Values (IAV). According to Media Transparency, a website tracking money and conservative movements, between 1991 and 2000, IAV received 42 grants totaling more than $1.5 million from the Bradley, Scaife Family, and Castle Rock foundations.
A recent Gallagher column again promotes marriage as the cure-all for what ails Americas poor. She has lined up behind what she calls President Bushs modest marriage initiative modest to the tune of up to $300 millionwhich is part of the presidents proposed welfare re- authorization package currently being debated in Congress.
For a number of years, Robert Rector has promoted marriage from his well-endowed platform at the Heritage Foundation. In his official biography this Heritage Foundation Senior Research Fellow is called a leading authority on poverty and the U.S. welfare system [who] focuses on a range of issues relating to welfare reform, family breakdown, and Americas various social ills. Rector is credited with having played a major role in crafting the federal welfare reform legislation passed in 1996, and he has conducted extensive research on the economic costs of welfare and its role in undermining families.
A recent report, co-authored with Kirk A. Johnson, PhD, and Patrick F. Fagan, is titled The Effect of Marriage on Child Poverty. This report argues, The lack of progress in reducing child poverty since 1965 can be explained in part by the erosion of marriage and the growth of poverty-prone single-parent families . Moving from a single-parent to a married family is a straightforward way to rise above the poverty threshold.
On April 16, Robert L. Woodson Sr. spoke on Marriage and the Black Community: Real Life Stories of Welfare Reform Success at a Heritage Foundation colloquium. Founder and president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise and the author of The Triumphs of Joseph: How Todays Community Healers Are Reviving Our Streets and Neighborhoods, Woodson talked about how past values of the black community that promoted self- sufficiency and strong, stable families can be restored, and the role that the Presidents welfare reform initiative can play in this revitalization.
In a May Village Voice article, Sharon Lerner writes: With $300 million of funds from the soon-to-be reauthorized Welfare Reform Act allotted for marriage promotion, poor people can expect an unprecedented array of programs nudging them toward the altar, including billboards advertising the joys of matrimony; marriage education for unwed, expecting parents; and marriage mentoring programs in which married couples serve as role models for singles.
How has the rights marriage movement become so prominent in the welfare reauthorization debate? Right wing foundations conceptualized, supported, sustained, and shaped the debate over marriage during the past ten years. David Popenoe, a seasoned veteran of the movement, discusses the pivotal role of conservative foundations in an article titled New Day Dawning?: In the struggle over the family, foundations made the difference, in the March/April 2002 issue of Philanthropy magazine, a bimonthly publication of the Philanthropy Roundtable, a consortium of conservative foundations.
Popenoe is a professor of sociology at Rutgers University and the co-director, along with Bar- bara Dafoe Whitehead of the National Marriage Project. Popenoe explains how most foundations traditionally focused on funding direct service programs rather than research and public education, especially when it comes to childrens issues. However, beginning in the late 1980s several conservative foundations blazed a new trail and supported research and public education in the child-related area of marriage and the family.
This reorientation, pushed by conservative foundations, such as Achelis and Bodman, Bradley, Donner, JM, Randolph, and Allegheny, led policymakers toward new ways of thinking about welfare, family, and marriage. The foundations set out to build a new political consensus about poverty.
Popenoe says that the old consensus was framed by the mainstream media and most of the academic community [who] fell back on the old standbys: persistent and institutional racism, income inequality, and lack of government support.
In the mid-1980s, instead of looking to the old formulas for understanding poverty, conservatives began examining the serious weakening of Americas family structure that had been taking place during those years.
Says Popenoe: The divorce rate had more than doubled between 1960 and 1985, and the out-of-wedlock birthrate had quadrupled. Broken homes had grown like wildfire; doleful news articles about latchkey kids popped up on TV and in the papers. These trends were most pronounced among blacks, but family structure rather than race accounted for the difference.
By the late 1980s, A small but impassioned band of academics and intellectuals concerned about the decline of the family and its devastating consequences on children made personal visits and appeals to a few innovative foundations. There, we found creative thinkers with receptive ears. The battle over changing the cultural debatewhat came to be called the war over the familywas joined.
Snagging Murphy Brown
After his wife, Marilyn, read a Washington Post Mothers Day piece by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead about the unwed TV mother Murphy Brown, she passed it on to her husbands speech writers. Shortly thereafter, Quayle unloaded his guns at what Popenoe characterizes as the TV shows casual attitude toward fatherless childrearing.
According to Popenoe, Quayles comments was the first time that the nation as a whole would seriously discuss issues like the dramatic rise of unwed births and single parenthood. For the most part, Murphy Browns behavior was firmly defended by the mediapartly, of course, because her nemesis was the conservative Dan Quayle.
By April 1993, Whitehead had an influential cover story in the April issue of the Atlantic, titled Dan Quayle was Right.
While Quayle and Whitehead were bringing the fatherhood pot to a boil, the issue found institutional advocates with the 1992 founding of the Council on Families in America, under the aegis of the New York-based Institute for American Values. Major funders of the Institute include the Lilly Endowment and the Achelis and Bodman, Bradley, and Earhart foundations. Here, writes Pop- enoe, for the first time was a group of like-minded scholars and leading intellectuals who could speak with one voice and receive media attention.
Major players included Judith Wallerstein, Don Browning who later, with the help of the Lilly Endowment, was to develop the influential Religion, Culture, and the Family Project at the University of Chicago, and Leon Kass, another University of Chicago professor who now heads the Presidents Council on Bioethics. The Council also contained several liberals, including Sylvia Ann Hewlett, President of the National Parenting Association, William Galston, a domestic affairs advisor to President Clinton, and Miss Manners Judith Martin.
The Councils 1995 report Marriage in America: A Report to the Nation, found that divorce had created terrible hardships for children, incurred unsupportable social costs, and failed to deliver on its promises of greater adult happiness. The time has come to shift the focus of national attention from divorce to marriage and to rebuild a family culture based on enduring marital relationships . We must reclaim the ideal of marital permanence and recognize that out-of-wedlock childbearing does harm.
Concerned foundations were building a social movement as the Councils ideas moved into the public policy arena. President Clintons 1996 State of the Union address was in large part devoted to family issues. One of its primary contributors was William Galston of the aforementioned Council on Families in America. By the end of the year, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Actotherwise known as welfare reform.
Since 1996, several states have incorporated marriage-boosting programs into their welfare programs. According to Sharon Lerner, Florida has instituted a mandatory marriage and relationship class for high school seniors. Utah [has] designated an annual marriage week, earmark[ing] $600,000 for pro-wedlock projects, including a video. Okla- homas program (being called the Governor and Mrs. Keatings marriage initiative) has used $10 million of welfare money to fund rallies and a year-long tour of public appearances by a husband-and- wife team of evangelical Christian marriage ambassadors.
Popenoe is particularly proud of the dramatic evidence of a turnaround in journalistic attitudes, exemplified by an August 2001 article in the New York Times, titled 2-Parent Families Rise after Change in Welfare Laws, which criticizes single parent families and argues that marriage can dramatically reduce poverty.
To Popenoe, courageous conservative foundations encouraged the creation of new marriage-focused organizations and contributed to research centers at existing right-wing think tanks. New policy initiatives developed into legislation; the media changed its tune. The marriage movement had completed its circle of influence.
President Bushs current marriage initiative is not an aberration; it is the natural extension of this work. Z
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative politics.