WASHINGTON — Utah Sen. Mike Lee outlined a new “conservative anti-poverty agenda” on Wednesday, arguing that one of the most effective ways to combat poverty across the country might just be through encouraging marriage.
Speaking to a luncheon of conservatives at the Capitol, the Republican legislator said: “It is uncomfortable to talk about, and almost impossible to legislate. But the fact is, the problem of poverty in America is directly linked to family breakdown and the erosion of marriage among low-income families and communities.”
“Implicit marriage penalties in our tax code and welfare programs surely need legislative remedies,” Lee said. “But what we’re really talking about is a question of culture, not policy incentives.”
He made the comments during an anti-poverty forum organized by a conservative think tank on Wednesday and attended by a number of Republican politicians, including Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan.
In his “Bring Them In” speech, Lee said: “To say that children tend to do best when raised by their married mom and dad is not a political opinion — it is a demonstrable fact. Saying so does not demean or degrade other family structures.”
He cited a study indicating taxpayers spend more than $100 billion a year because of family fragmentation.
“Yet, this data has arrived at a moment when the controversies about same-sex marriage tend to overwhelm any political discussion of the institution,” he said. “It could be said that the political sensitivity of marriage today might be a good reason not to bring it up at all. But I think the data makes this the perfect time to begin this debate precisely because it will require such sensitivity on all sides.”
Lee said leader must “finally accept and embrace and celebrate that fact.”
“Sincerely doing so could do more to win the war on poverty than anything else discussed at this conference today,” he said.
During his speech, Lee said to win the fight against poverty, conservatives can’t just offer criticism, but need to promote alternatives. “Our job is to identify the obstructions that impede Americans’ access to our market economy and civil society and clear them,” he said.
“The conservative vision for America is not an Ayn Rand novel,” he said. “It’s a Norman Rockwell painting, or a Frank Capra movie: a nation of plain, ordinary kindness, and a little looking out for the other fellow, too.”