Government and Marriage
If government subsidized beaches,
we would have a shortage of sand.”
The president recently announced a new program designed to promote “healthy marriages” by using welfare funds to subsidize media campaigns and feel-good relationship counseling, all courtesy of U.S. taxpayers. In fact, Mr. Bush proposes spending $1.5 billion over the next five years, all to promote an institution that flourished for centuries without state encouragement.
The irony is that an initiative aimed at promoting moral values will be funded immorally, by taxing people who may have no interest in such government folly.
The idea is not new, as politicians have talked about using government to advance marriage for decades. But federal promotion of marriage, even if well-intentioned, is a form of social engineering that should worry anyone concerned with preserving a free society. The federal government has no authority to promote or discourage any particular social arrangements; instead the Founders recognized that people should live their lives largely free of federal interference. This is not to say that the Founders intended or imagined a libertine America. On the contrary, they envisioned an America with vibrant religious, family, social, and civic institutions that would shape a moral nation. They understood that strong private institutions, so important in a free and just society, could not coexist with a strong, centralized government.
The failed history of welfarism and socialism in America shows that government programs ultimately erode our culture by damaging personal virtue. When government ostensibly attempts to promote culture, it always further erodes liberty. The administration’s proposal only expands the reach of the federal welfare state, even if for supposedly conservative ends. Healthy marriages are not the result of government programs. Healthy marriages are the result of individual conviction and personal responsibility, neither of which can be mandated by government.
Government is not morality, government is force- and forcing taxpayers to fund another silly program will not strengthen the institution of marriage. If Mr. Bush really wants to promote marriage, he should work to dismantle the soul-destroying welfare system that rewards out-of-wedlock births. He should work to end the judicial assault on religious liberty. He should urge Congress to cut spending and taxes, so that more money can flow into churches and private charities. The president certainly is correct that marriage is important, and the need for stable, two-parent families is apparent. We should all be quite skeptical, however, of claims that government programs can fix the deep-rooted cultural problems responsible for the decline of the American family.