By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
As yet, there is little evidence of the pro-marriage movement in Texas, but our turn is coming. "We are getting pressure from the White House that we really need to do something in Texas," says Larry Brendel, regional program director for the Administration of Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Texas conservatives are pushing bills this legislative session supporting marriage promotion as well as covenant marriage--a kind of über-marriage that eliminates simple no-fault divorces. A small but zealous group of family law attorneys claim they defend marriage in the courtroom on behalf of clients who are contesting their divorces. But when Brendel thinks about "doing something in Texas," he thinks about supporting, among others, Kelly Simpson, who hopes by the end of the year to launch what she calls the "Texas initiative," a nonprofit community-wide marital coalition of the willing.
That the federal government might fund relationship skills courses such as Simpson's that seek to educate couples in a variety of sexual styles--"gourmet sex, adventuresome sex, a quickie, self-care"--would seem to at least give the religious right pause. Only somehow, it doesn't.
"It's just not a liberal-conservative issue," Simpson says. "I see it as a necessity to help our culture raise healthy, happy, well-fed children. What's so controversial about that?"
I am happily remarried and have been able to achieve what marriage educators and social conservatives claim is a myth: a good divorce. Although I was no monument to matrimony when my ex-wife threw me out, I remember standing on the front porch and peering through the living room window at my son Adam, who was only 2 and staring back at me, crying. As a lawyer, I had done some divorce work and had represented too many dads who out of irresponsibility (theirs) or vindictiveness (theirs and/or their wives) had no relationship with their kids after the divorce was final. Staring at my son, I promised myself I would never be one of those dads. Anger subsided, civility returned and my former wife filed for divorce alleging no-fault grounds, which enabled us to share custody of our son for 16 years. Through remarriages, career changes and the birth of my second son and first daughter, we have attempted to keep Adam, now a college sophomore, at the center of our concerns. So when I look at the research, which states that on average children and parents in married families are happier, healthier, wealthier and generally less pissed off than those who live in single-parent homes, I think about Adam and wonder if the marriage movement is overstating its case.
Diane Sollee, the director of the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education and head cheerleader for the marriage movement, does her best to convince me otherwise. She coined the term "marriage education" in 1996, the year she first organized her Smart Marriages Conference, which trains marriage educators in a dizzying assortment of relationship skills courses. She sees the movement more as a "marriage renaissance" and paints herself as a liberal feminist, which is disarming, coming from a woman who regularly lunches with Republicans.
Of course, Sollee has learned to be politic, since the history of the marriage issue is riddled with the sullied reputations of those who came before her. First came a young Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who in 1964 as LBJ's assistant secretary of labor was branded a racist for a report he wrote that pointed out the strong correlation between single mothers in the black community and poverty. Dan Quayle didn't fare much better when he castigated TV's Murphy Brown for glorifying single motherhood and in turn was roasted by women's groups and the media. Attacks such as these silenced liberals and weak-kneed policymakers who refused to discuss the "M word." "The furor stopped the conversation. We couldn't talk about marriage," says Theodora Ooms, senior research analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy, which conducts research related to economic issues for low-income families. "We liberals were not about making moral judgments, particularly about poor people. We were trained in a culture that said that every lifestyle was equally good, and that every family form should be celebrated."
Conservatives held no similar compunction. Their very fiber was set against what they perceived was the moral relativism of the counterculture. They were only too happy to play to their base and preach the virtues of family, which could only be gleaned the traditional way: from two heterosexual parents married and living under one roof. Some conservatives hoped to restore the family to its former patriarchic dominance with Mom out of the workplace and back in the kitchen; others embraced fatherhood, which had been severely dissed by radical feminists who claimed the only value men had as parents was providing an additional revenue stream. Again the research proved them seriously wrong.
But rather than simply advocate for child well-being or responsible fatherhood, conservatives attacked single mothers, out-of-wedlock births and divorced couples, casting them as moral failures. And who wanted to listen to that preaching other than the choir?