San Francisco Chronicle

Hate and Marriage

by DEBRA J. SAUNDERS Sunday, October 31, 1999
San Francisco Chronicle

THE NATIONAL Organization for Women doesn't want the government to promote marriage. Promoting marriage, the group says, ``would place more women and children at risk.''

Worse, NOW is alarmed because ``right- wing religious groups'' -- which apparently have less claim to federal funds than left- wing religious groups -- have ``an agenda of promoting marriage at all costs, regardless of the risks some marriages would pose to the safety of women and children.''

Thus NOW is fighting hard to kill the Fathers Count Act in Congress, which would promote marriage and fathers' involvement in their children's upbringing and provide job training for deadbeat dads so they can help with their kids' financial support.

NOW also has urged members to contact Veep Al Gore about their opposition to the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn. It's hard to fathom why NOW is picking on Gore; he hasn't endorsed the bill. He has a deadbeat dad plan, but I've seen it and it doesn't even mention HR3073. ``I've been hearing this, but I couldn't figure out what they were talking about,'' said Gore adviser Elaine Kamarck.

Johnson, whose sister is a single mother, pointed out that the bill's purpose is not to bash single mothers, but to recognize an unpleasant reality. ``NOW is ignoring what is now broadly accepted by liberals, conservatives and moderates, that children in single-parent families are far more likely to suffer abuse, do poorly in school and have poorer prospects to live above the poverty line in their adult life.'' She added that her bill is designed to make men better fathers whether they marry the mother or not.

I tend to be skeptical as to whether such programs -- with more government-sponsored mentoring and counseling -- will work or be worth the $150 million to be spent over three years. NOW Executive Vice President Kim Gandy called the program a poor choice of giving money to parents who are not taking care of their kids ``in the apparently misguided belief that it will trickle down to the children.'' She has a point.

On the other hand, it may not be a bad idea to bet $50 million -- peanuts by D.C. standards -- to see if deadbeat dads can be turned around. If it doesn't work after three years -- I know this is a naive notion, but it makes sense -- close the money spigot.

The problem is that Gandy opposes the job-training money because she thinks it won't work, but opposes the marriage boosting because she fears it will work. ``I think promoting marriage as a goal in and of itself is misguided.'' As a NOW Action Alert warned, ``We know that in some cases, marriage to a violent or irresponsible person is what caused the mom and kids to be in poverty to begin with.'' I wouldn't want the government to tell women to commit to spending a lifetime with men who beat them, but the program isn't supposed to finger- wag women into marrying abusive men.

The money is supposed to be used to push men to marry the women they knock up. You know, it's not as if men have a too-good record on that account.

``A lot of women don't want those men to marry them,'' Gandy added. OK, they can say no if the bum gets down on bended knee.

Gandy sees this bill as taking money from job training for custodial parents. She doesn't believe deadbeat dads (or moms, she said) should get a dime's worth of training until all custodial parents have received all the job training, placement and transportation backing they need. It's a point well taken, except that getting fathers to contribute might take some of the weight off stressed-to-the-max moms.

NOW also takes exception to the bill's ``tying federal benefits to gender,'' although it often refers to ``noncustodial parents.'' Funny, when women specifically benefit from federal programs, the ladies don't complain.

NOW also objects to the government giving tax money to ``men's custody groups.'' Gandy said NOW also would object to giving tax money to groups that support women's custody first and foremost.

Sure. And they were angry at the bill called the Violence Against Women Act. (Not.)

Meanwhile, Gandy insisted that NOW was putting the interests of children first. As if it's better for kids if their father doesn't marry their mother, or better if their father never has to be reminded about his obligations. I'll tell you one TV show you will never see, ``NOW knows best.''

You can read Debra J. Saunders on The Gate at sfgate.com

©1999 San Francisco Chronicle