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Marriage as a Route to Success? Maybe Not
February 28, 2002
By Why

Actually, it might be if it's a good, stable marriage that was well-considered before inception. I have serious doubts about any marriage entered into for economic reasons. As Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, writes in USA Today, "The reasons we marry (or don't) aren't based on income level, and there are many factors involved."

pResident Bush proposes, without much elaboration, that the way to succeed in life is to get married. How do I put this? No. This is like reading Consumer Reports before buying a car. It seems to be a good idea, but most of the cars tested by CU are heavily optioned under the premise that the options included on the test cars are the ones consumers want. They ignore the fact that most car buyers in the real world won't pay $28,000 for a Toyota Camry when the $19,000 model with the four-banger is sufficient. Thus, reading a review on the $28,000 Camry prior to buying the $19,000 model is a useless exercise at best.

So is it with government-encouraged "shotgun marriages." In the old days, women got married because it made better economic sense than working in whatever job a woman could get. The problem with this was, such women were completely dependent upon their husbands for their livelihoods. If the male partner turned out to be an abusive son of a bitch, a habitual drunkard, or whatever, tough shit.

Conservatives often forget the bad parts about the "good old days," like the part where life expectancy was about 55 years when Teddy Roosevelt was President, or that the lack of a minimum wage led to large-scale worker exploitation, widespread poverty, stunted economic growth, etc., or that without consumer protection regs, food, drugs, children's toys, automobiles, baby strollers, etc., were often hazardous to one's health.

Maggie Gallagher (who writes mostly what I'd call "conservative feminist" stuff like this for Yahoo! News) suggests that federal money spent on such things as "welfare, food stamps, health care, child care, job training, education for single moms and their kids" constitutes "subsidizing the consequences of family breakdown." Perhaps she's right - to a point. On the other hand, I'd love to ask her whether whatever perceived harm educating single mothers (most of whom did not enter into such status just to suck on the government teat, I might add) might inflict on the "Great American Family (TM)" outweighs the benefit of having women in our society who can fend for themselves, pay taxes, and raise their children to be productive citizens.

Ms. Gallagher, while more polished and better educated than someone like Ann Coulter, is being less than intellectually honest in her comparison of bad marriage vs. single motherhood: "While a stressful marriage can be hard on women, mothers who are not married are often in a churning romantic maelstrom that may have negative effects on the mothers' careers as well as children's well-being." Such statements are meant to horrify and frighten people, as they understate the ill-effects of the snake oil they are selling you while blowing those of the status quo out of proportion, like those TV commercials for newfangled (and mostly unnecessary) kitchen appliances.

The reality is, marriage guarantees nothing. Sure, people in good, stable marriages tend to be prosperous because of the synergy that takes place between a husband and wife who are dedicated to each other. That last part in italics is extremely important. A good marriage is like a good company; two partners can accomplish more for their mutual benefit than the two individuals could alone. Such dedication is a personal character trait one brings into a marriage, not something that naturally derives from matrimony. Thus, a bad marriage is counterproductive for both participants. Partners who cannot trust each other, who aren't team players, who have conflicts of interest, etc., have no business being in business together. Such a partnership is doomed from the start to failure; it is foolish to suggest that marriage, in and of itself, guarantees success in life. It is cruel to foist it on those who are vulnerable and desperate.

Instead of "toughening" welfare reform, perhaps it is wiser to look at ways to improve it. As the writer taking up the conservative viewpoint in USA Today suggests, promoting marriage would work "only if the government backs up its pro-marriage talk with actions that end the financial penalties levied on low-income couples that tie the knot." Poor working couples are oftentimes ineligible for much-needed assistance for which the mother alone, were she not married, would be eligible. That has the effect, not only of discouraging marriage, but of weakening existing marriages. This continues to be a flaw in the welfare system, and it should be done away with. This, more than anything else, would strengthen families more than any Bush administration propaganda campaign.

Why is a middle of the road recovering Republican who writes a center-left online newsletter called way Too Much Sense! (TM).

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