ACLU Joins Chorus Against Marriage Promotion in Welfare Reform; Says Policy Threatens Increased Spousal Abuse, Undercuts Privacy

July 17, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today stood with a group of conservative libertarians, progressive advocates and lawmakers in calling for the removal of provisions in the Republican version of welfare reform legislation that authorize and allocate funds for marriage promotion schemes in the states.

“There are some very grave consequences to this marriage promotion plan, most notably that it provides financial incentives for domestic violence victims to stay with their abusers,” said LaShawn Y. Warren, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Couple this with the fact that the law would interfere with our basic right to marry who and how we like, and it’s clear that they should be removed.”

The marriage promotion language was the subject of a policy briefing on Capitol Hill today, which featured an array of unlikely allies on the issue, including the ACLU’s Warren, Democratic Presidential hopeful Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and speakers from the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund and the libertarian Cato Institute.

The provisions, which appear in the Republican draft of the contentious welfare reauthorization bill, provide financial incentives for unmarried couples to tie the knot and for married couples to stay together. Advocates from across the political spectrum fear that the legislation will waste needed federal and state dollars on an unproven policy, interfere with the fundamentally private decision to marry and inappropriately limit states’ flexibility in implementing social programs within their borders.

As a result, states would be forced to divert funds for childcare, education and training, all of which are essential in the fight to help lift low-income Americans out of poverty.

Additionally, opponents worry that, by providing a financial incentive for married couples to remain together, the policy will actually keep abusive marriages intact. According to independent polling, support for marriage promotion policies is quite weak around the country, with opposition coming from all corners of the political globe.

“Essentially, this program tells Americans that if you’re poor, it’s ok for the government to intrude on your personal choices,” Warren said. “If you have to rely on government assistance to feed your kids, and that’s dangled as a carrot to stay married, you’re going to have little incentive to get out of unhealthy situations.”

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