Maryland gov divorces marriage

Neil Munro | White House Correspondent

Democratic Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is working to improve his state’s numbers on poverty, education, crime and employment, but he says Maryland can’t effectively reduce out-of-wedlock births or divorces.

“It makes little sense to claim you care about educational failure, violence and poverty, and then say you don’t care about people getting and staying married,” countered Maggie Gallagher, founder of the National Organization for Marriage. Lack of support for traditional marriage, she said, “is the source of a huge part of these problems in Maryland.”

But one marriage issue has earned O’Malley’s top-level attention: same-sex marriage.

The self-described progressive governor has announced he will push a controversial same-sex marriage law through the Maryland legislature next year, even though a March attempt to legalize gay marriage failed after black leaders came out in opposition.

A Sept. 13 report from the Census Bureau showed that married parents have weathered the recession far better than unmarried parents. The poverty rate for married families has risen from 5.8 percent in 2009 to 6.2 percent in 2010, while the poverty rate for unmarried mothers rose from 30 percent to 31.6 percent, said the report, which discounts the value of welfare programs.

Nationally, 47 percent of children raised by single mothers — compared with 11 percent of children raised by married couples — live in poverty, said the census report. (RELATED: Pat Robertson says Alzheimer’s makes divorce ok)

“I’d be open to a broader conversation about whether or not we should have a goal as government of a marriage performance index,” he told TheDC at a Sept. 15 breakfast briefing hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “But I don’t think that’s something government would be particularly good at, so I’m going to stay focused on the infant mortality, violent crime reduction [and] improving educational outcomes,” he said.

In Maryland, 32,472 children were born to single mothers in 2008, according to federal government data. That total comprised 42 percent of all Maryland births, and 27 percent of non-Hispanic white births, 64 percent of African-American births and 57 percent of Hispanic births in the state.

From 2005 to 2009, 2.1 percent of Maryland’s married families, and 17 percent of its unmarried families, were in poverty, according to data on the Census Bureau’s website.

At least 19 other states have programs to aid married couples and reduce out-of-wedlock births. In nearby Virginia, for example, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell has funded a Strengthening Families Initiative, partly because the state’s out-of-wedlock birth rate is now at 35 percent, up from 30 percent a decade ago.

“Children who are raised by single parents are at greater risk of dropping out of school, teenage pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, living in poverty, and experiencing health, emotional, and behavioral problems than children growing up in two‐parent families,” said a May 2011 report by the initiative. Each year, fragmenting families consume roughly $2.4 billion in services and funding provided by state employees, at a cost of $663 to each Virginia household, the initiative added in a July report.

“We’re redefining the client as a family [member] in a more holistic way that improves the outcome for all the people in the family,” said Hayley Mathews, the Richmond-based manager of the initiative. Many state government, and the federal government, are shifting their focus to families, she said. “It makes sense.”

At O’Malley’s direction, Maryland officials calculate the cost of harmful “family changes.” The calculation includes the roughly $350 million cost of divorces, as measured in 2009, and the cost of “time spent watching television” — estimated at $1.2 billion in 2009 — but does not track the costs of raising children without two parents.

O’Malley is, however, closely tracking the politics of same-sex marriage, and has announced he will push for a same-sex marriage law in 2012. O’Malley is following in the footsteps the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who won plaudits from national gay leaders following his campaign this year to win the New York legislators’ approval for a same-sex marriage law. Cuomo and O’Malley are widely seen as rivals for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

This year, after a bruising debate, the state House rejected a controversial bill to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Advocates for gay rights say a same-sex marriage bill is needed to give gays and lesbians the same rights and status as heterosexuals.

On Sept. 7, O’Malley told more than 200 gay-marriage supporters at a fundraising event that he support marriages for gay and lesbian couples because he wants to expand the “circle of inclusion” to include them. Also, he said, “we don’t want one set of laws for children of gay and lesbian couples, and one set of laws for children of heterosexual couples. … This is about making sure that every family in Maryland is able to raise their children in a loving and stable home.”

Census data released in August show that one in every 160 Maryland households with children is headed by a gay or lesbian couple.

Conservatives say marriage is an institution designed to bind parents to the care of their children. When a government enacts a same-sex marriage law, they say, it puts adults’ needs — not those of kids — at the center of marriage. “It is sad the the only thing the governor wants to do for marriage is redefine it by cutting it off from its roots” in child-rearing, said Gallagher.

It’s difficult to understand why the governor won’t aid child-rearing marriage, she said, when he’s already using government to tell “people what to do and think on many programs.”

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