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 Mother’s 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 MTV’s highest rated shows ever—nevertheless,
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. “It’s a little bit different than our household.
“I’m not encouraging anybody to live his life. But…many
of the things he’s trying to say are positive.” 

Ten
years ago, the reaction to Quayle’s “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
Quayle’s speech was a turning point in the war to save the
family. 

Quayle’s
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
Bush’s $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.” Gallagher’s 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 Foundation’s
TownHall. com, Gallagher’s 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,
Health
ier 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 Institute’s
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 America’s poor. She has lined up behind what
she calls President Bush’s “modest marriage initiative”—
“modest” to the tune of up to $300 million—which
is part of the president’s 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 America’s 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 Today’s 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
President’s welfare reform initiative can play in this revitalization.” 

Pro-marriage
Consensus 

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 right’s “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 children’s 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 America’s 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
debate—what came to be called ‘the war over the family’—was
joined.” 

Snagging
“Murphy Brown” 

After
his wife, Marilyn, read a Washington
Post
Mother’s Day piece by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead about
the “unwed TV mother” Murphy Brown, she passed it on to
her husband’s speech writers. Shortly thereafter, Quayle unloaded
his guns at what Popenoe characterizes as “the TV show’s
casual attitude toward fatherless childrearing.” 

According
to Popenoe, Quayle’s 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
Brown’s behavior was firmly defended by the media—partly,
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 President’s 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
Council’s 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 Council’s
ideas moved into the public policy arena. President Clinton’s
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
Act—otherwise 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- homa’s program (being called ‘the
Governor and Mrs. Keating’s 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
Bush’s 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.