Dads Against the Divorce Industry

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Divorce statement expected to fuel national debate

Document will propose measures that would reinforce marriage laws
Karen S. Peterson

06/28/2000 USA Today

More than 100 authorities on marriage will release a statement Thursday that calls for reconsidering no-fault divorce laws, using leftover welfare money to fund pro-marriage activities and promoting alternative "covenant marriages" that make divorce more difficult.

The 35-page document, which is drawing fire even before its release, will "mark a historic turn in the family values debate," says Maggie Gallagher of the Institute for American Values, a private think tank and one of the document's co-sponsors.

"We don't need to debate anymore if children are better off growing up with two happily married parents," Gallagher says. "We know the answer. Now we can focus on what we can do to make that happy outcome happen more often." The statement seeks to spark debate over how to lower the nation's divorce rate. But it will likely anger those who say personal relationships are private business and all family forms -- including live-in relationships, gay couples and single parenthood -- are equally valid.

The signers reach across much of the political spectrum and many hope to bring together disparate factions of the marriage movement and galvanize them for future action, says Don Browning of the University of Chicago Divinity School, a co-sponsor of the statement.

The marriage movement is a loose but growing grassroots coalition concerned about the impact of divorce on children. It includes a broad range of marriage counselors, academicians, politicians, researchers, divorce lawyers, teachers, judges, religious leaders.

The new statement will be released at a Denver conference sponsored by Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education (CMFCE). "This statement could not have been put together even three or four years ago," CMFCE founder Diane Sollee says. "It was still politically incorrect to say you were for marriage, because it was thought that meant you were against some other family form." Public opinion is shifting as research shows that divorce often has a negative impact on children, says David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values and a major force behind the statement. Not everyone agrees with the movement.

Dorian Solot of The Alternatives to Marriage Project says, "A better name for the marriage movement would be the 'marriage only' movement. Their message seems to be marriage is the only acceptable option."

The marriage movement is promoted by people who "want to turn back the clock" and "who think our whole civil society has been greatly wounded by divorce," says Marianne Walters of the Family Therapy Practice Center in Washington, D.C. "I am not of that opinion."

Mike Bowers, executive director of the American Association for Marriage and Family, says it is "hard to argue with the basic premise of the marriage movement. But the devil is in the details."

Surgery on intimate relationships requires "a scalpel," he says. "When you change laws (such as no-fault divorce) you use a club."

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