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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

Event Transcripts

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

Web Links