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Marriage initiative, along with welfare reform, halts in Senate

WASHINGTON (BP)–A legislative effort to foster stable marriages, along with the rest of a new welfare reform package, has hit a roadblock in the U.S. Senate.

One day after a Southern Baptist spokesman joined other pro-family leaders and three senators on Capitol Hill in calling for approval of President Bush’s Healthy Marriage Initiative, maneuvers on the Senate floor resulted in an impasse on the legislation. When Democratic senators sought a vote on an increase in the minimum wage, Sen. Rick Santorum, R.-Pa., called for a vote to bring the welfare reform reauthorization bill up for floor action. When that effort failed to produce enough votes to do so, work on the bill halted.

The options for supporters of welfare reform reauthorization, which is required this year, appear to be two, according to a Senate source -– a vote on a temporary extension or a re-debating of the reauthorization.

“The Democrats chose to defeat it,” Santorum spokesman Robert Traynham told Baptist Press. They are “playing politics” and “not interested in moving people from welfare to work,” he said.

Santorum not only opposed the increase in minimum wage but saw it as not germane to the bill, Traynham said.

If the new welfare reform package fails to gain approval, it will dent efforts to keep women and children off welfare lists by strengthening marriages. The initiative in the welfare reform proposal would provide $300 million yearly for premarital training and counseling, as well as other programs, in order to build stable marriages and prevent divorce. It also would seek to reduce penalties in welfare programs for marriage. The results hopefully would include a reduction in both child poverty and dependence on government aid, supporters say.

Participation would be voluntary, and the focus would be on prevention rather than repair of troubled marriages, the plan’s backers say.

“Marriage is far more than a private, personal, social relationship,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, at a March 31 news conference. “It is a positive social good that makes for physically and emotionally healthier spouses and children. There’s a mountain of evidence, enough to fill the Capitol, that shows this now. We’ve conducted a 35- or 40-year experiment in this country on whether or not fathers are optional accessories in the rearing of children, and the answer is they’re not.”

Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., Land and other speakers pointed to studies that demonstrate children of intact marriages are healthier physically and emotionally, more successful in school and in jobs, and less likely to participate in crime, abuse alcohol or use illegal drugs.

“Marriage needs to be sustained,” Land said. “The government needs to be making policies and doing things that help sustain healthy marriages, because it’s the right thing to do; it’s good for children; it’s good for their parents. And when government doesn’t do it, government ends up having to try to remediate the damage that is done to children and their parents.”

Supporters of the 1996 welfare reform law consider it a success, having reduced the welfare rolls. The latest reform proposal would increase both work requirements and punishment for states that fail to enforce welfare laws appropriately.

“This last welfare bill did a fabulous job of getting people back to work,” Brownback said at the news conference. “This one needs to do a fabulous job of getting families back together.”

Promoting marriage through welfare reform is not without its detractors.

“[M]arriage promotion is a dangerous proposition and does nothing to solve either the poverty or the domestic violence affecting the lives of many [welfare] recipients,” said Lisalyn Jacobs of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, a liberal, feminist organization. “There’s still time to scrap this dangerous and intrusive experiment, and put the money to good use.”

The initiative actually would decrease domestic violence, Brownback said, noting that one of the “most unsafe places for a child” is in a household with his mother and a live-in male.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SEEKING STABLE MARRIAGES.