Roundtable Resources on the
Healthy Marriage Initiative
Publisher: The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy
Strengthening marriage was a key goal of the federal welfare reforms enacted in 1996. However, efforts to meet this goal fell far short, with much more emphasis being placed on moving people off welfare rolls and into jobs. This was largely because employment training programs were already widely in place and available, while a similar infrastructure did not exist to encourage healthy marriages.
Now, the government is seeking to renew marriage promotion, and to enlist the aid of faith-based organizations in this effort. The main thrust of this collaboration is the Bush administrations' "Healthy Marriage Initiative," which Congress funded in 2006 through a five-year, $500 million appropriation contained in the reauthorization of "Temporary Assistance for Needy Families" -- better known as "TANF." (Congress approved another $250 million for programs to support fatherhood over the same period.)
Supporters of the initiative say the benefits of marriage include more stabile families, greater wealth, and a healthier atmosphere for the well-being of children. Opponents fear that some women will become trapped in abusive or submissive relationships, while others say marriage is an intensely private matter that should not involve the government.
Scholars, journalists and various advocacy groups have raised these questions and a host of others about the government's marriage promotion initiative, including: Is it government's role to promote marriage? Should tax dollars be spent on marriage training programs when government resources are shrinking? Would poor people be better served by other programs, such as those that make them more likely to get a job?
In addition, the government's interest in partnering with faith-based institutions to promote marriage poses other concerns: Are faith-based groups effective at delivering marriage education programs? Will the low-income groups targeted for such programs attend them? What role, if any, do religious elements play in the effectiveness of these programs? How far should a government-sponsored faith-based program go beyond teaching secular skills like conflict resolution and parental disciplining techniques?
To help address these questions and further a more informed debate about this important public policy issue, The Roundtable offers this digest of resources on the "Healthy Marriage Initiative."
Roundtable Forum on Marriage Promotion
Roundtable & Rockefeller Institute Papers on Marriage Issues
Roundtable Legal Update
Barry Christianson (and others) v. Michael O. Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services (and others). U. S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. On September 12, 2006, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed the first Establishment Clause challenge to a Christian program of marriage education and counseling. Its lawsuit targeted the Secretary of Health and Human Services and two of that department's grantees under the Compassion Capital Fund - the Institute for Youth Development and the Northwest Marriage Institute. The suit alleged that those grants were used to finance religious activities, in violation of the First Amendment. The lawsuit raised difficult and novel questions about the constitutionality of government financial assistance in building the capacity of religious organizations - a key aspect of the federal Faith-Based and Community Initiative. Moreover, the lawsuit represented the first Establishment Clause challenge to a faith-based program of marriage education and counseling.
In March 2007, the court dismissed the case largely because the marriage educator chose to change the content of its programming, from religious to secular, in order to receive government grants. So the larger questions in the lawsuit were not answered, write the Roundtable’s legal experts. Among them was the question that had made the case most interesting to observers of constitutional law: whether government can provide direct financial support to religious groups to improve their ability to deliver services – when those services may ultimately include some religious content.
Read an analysis of the original complaint by Ira C. Lupu and Robert W. Tuttle, Co-Directors, Roundtable Legal Research, published September 19, 2006.
Read an analysis of the judge’s order by Lupu and Tuttle, published March 27, 2007.
Read the original complaint.
Read the judge's order.
Related Roundtable News Stories
Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Federally Funded Marriage Program
Anne Farris, Roundtable Washington Correspondent Published: 05/27/2007
Marriage Program Charged With Using Tax Money to Spread Christian Message
Claire Hughes, Roundtable Correspondent Published: 09/12/2006
Marriage Money Flows to Faith-Based and Community Organizations
Anne Farris, Roundtable Washington Correspondent Published: 10/10/2006
Feds Announce Over $135 Million in Healthy Marriage Initiative Grants Now Available
Claire Hughes, Roundtable Correspondent Published: 05/23/2006
New Research Looks at Families and Marriage
Claire Hughes and Anne Farris, Roundtable Correspondents Published: 05/31/2004
Chicago African-American Health Marriage Initiative Conference
Claire Hughes, Roundtable Correspondent Published: 05/17/2004
Related Roundtable Interviews
Ronald B. Mincy of Columbia University on the "Fragile Families in Focus" study commissioned by the State of Louisiana in 2004
Robert M. Franklin of Emory University on his conversations with African- American clergy about the role they might play in promoting healthy marriages.
Wade Horn of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
Other Papers and Publications on Marriage Issues
- Healthy Marriages in Low-Income African-American Communities
Part1: Exploring Partnership between Faith Communities and the Marriage Movement
by Robert M. Franklin, Ph.D., Emory University
- Healthy Marriages in Low-Income African-American Communities
Part2: Expanding the Dialogue with Faith Leadersfrom Making Connections Sites
by Robert M. Franklin, Ph.D., Emory University and Stephanie C. Boddie, Ph.D, Washington University in St. Louis.
- "Understanding the President's Healthy Marriage Initiative"
by Robert E. Rector and Melissa G. Pardue, The Heritage Foundation
- "Beyond Marriage Licenses: Efforts in States to Strengthen Marriage and Two-Parent
Families -- A State-by-State Snapshot"
by Theodora Ooms, Stacey Bouchet, and Mary Parke.
- "Can Government Strengthen Marriage?", Institute for American Values.
- "Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-One Conclusions from the Social Sciences",
Institute for American Values.
- "Should Government Promote Healthy Marriages?", Urban Institute
- "The Problem with the Bush Administration's 'Marriage Promotion' Agenda,"
by Wendy Pollack, Senior Attorney, National Center on Poverty Law
- "Mothers' Labor Supply in Fragile Families: The Role of Child Health, a part of the National Poverty Center Working Paper Series,"
Hope Corman, Rider University, National Bureau of Economic Research; Nancy E. Reichman, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; and Kelly Noonan, Rider University, National Bureau of Economic Research
- "New Fathers' Labor Supply: Does Child Health Matter?, a part of the National Poverty
Center Working Paper Series," by Kelly Noonan, Rider University, National Bureau of Economic Research; Nancy E. Reichman, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; and Hope Corman, Rider University, National Bureau of Economic Research
- "Helping Unwed Parents Build Strong and Healthy Marriages:
A Conceptual Framework for Interventions,"
by M. Robin Dion, Barbara Devaney, Sheena McConnell, Melissa Ford, Heather Hill, and Pamela Winston.
- "Marriage Patterns of TANF Recipients: Evidence from New Jersey,"
by Robert G. Wood, Anu Rangarajan, and John Deke.
- "Issue Brief on the availability of Technical Assistance from the Building
Strong Families (BSF) project,"
Building Strong Families (BSF works with state/local partners to develop or refine interventions to promote healthy marriage among interested unwed parents at or near the birth of their child)
- "When Child Welfare Agencies Rely on Voluntary Kinship Placements,"
by Karin Malm and Rob Geen, Urban Institute.
- "Discussion Points: Healthy Marriage Partnerships,"
New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- "Marriage Promotion: Promises and Perils," Contemporary Families.org
- "Welfare and Poverty: State Marriage Initiatives,"
NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund
- "Should the government promote marriage?"
by Andrew J. Cherlin, University of California
- "State Experience and Perspectives on Reducing Out-of-Wedlock Births,"
by Mark W. Nowak, Michael E. Fishman and Mary E. Farrell, The Lewin Group, Inc.
- "Leading the Way: Positive Educational, Social and Healthy Outcomes for Children," Administration for Children and Families Region VI Midwinter Leadership Conference
- "National Healthy Marriage Academy,"
Administration for Children and Families' (ACF)
- "State Policies to Promote Marriage, State Policies to Promote Marriage,"
by Karen N. Gardiner, Michael E. Fishman, Plamen Nikolov, Asaph Glosser, and Stephanie Laud, With the Assistance of Theodora Ooms, Center for Law and Social Policy
- "Colorado Strengthening Families Conference Report,"
Administration for Children and Families
- "Working Together to Strengthen Families Conference,"
Administration for Children and Families
- "Welfare Reform and its Impact on Children and Families,"
New America Foundation
- "Marriage in Oklahoma: 2001 Baseline State Survey on Marriage and Divorce,"
Oklahoma State University Bureau for Social Research
- "Project Overview: Supporting Healthy Marriage (SHM),"
Administration for Children and Families.
- "Report The Chicagoland Healthy Marriage Initiative,"
Chicagoland Marriage Resource Center.
- "More Research Needed to Put Marriage Policies on Track,"
Research Forum, National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.
- "Summary Report: Why Marriage Matters,"
African-American Healthy Marriage Initiative (AAHMI) Roundtable
- "The Community Healthy Marriage Initiative,"
The Lewin Group and Administration for Children and Families
- "Policy Brief -- Work and Marriage: The Way to End Poverty and Welfare,"
by Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill, The Brookings Institution..
- "Closing the Marriage Gap,"
by Dr. Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families.
- "Effects of Marriage on Family Economic Well-Being,"
by Robert Lerman, Urban Institute and American University
- "Policy Briefing," Center on Fathers, Families, and Public Policy (CFFPP)
- "Technical Assistance Series and Child Support Handbook,"
Center on Fathers, Families, and Public Policy (CFFPP)
- The Healthy Marriage Initiative (web page) -- Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Promotion of Child Well-Being and Healthy Marriages - White House
- Legal Momentum - Marriage Promotion (formerly the NOW Legal Defense Fund)
- The Healthy Marriage Initiative - U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
- African-American Healthy Marriage Initiative Forum
- Couples and Marriage Policy -- Center for Law and Policy (CLASP)
- MarriageSavers -- A faith-based marriage promotion program
- PAIRS - Offers a curriculum of "how-to" marriage skills that has been adapted and used by Baptist, Church of Christ, Methodist, Lutheran, Jewish, Catholic, and Presbyterian clergy.
- PREP - Originally a secular "skills-based" program to teach communication skills for couples, since modified for various religious faiths.
- Caring Couples Network -- An ecumenical ministry that has developed a model for married couples, clergy and faith-based professional counselors to provide services to couples experiencing difficulties.
- Reconciling God's Way -- A Christian curriculum used by clergy and lay leaders to provide services to married couples who want to strengthen their own marriages, or help others.
- Catholic Engaged Encounter -- A marriage preparation program designed to give couples a chance to talk through their goals, family finances, plans for children, and their role in society.