Can the First Husband talk about marriage?

The election night victory photograph tweeted by President Obama’s campaign captured it all: The Obamas wrapped in one another’s arms, … Continued

The election night victory photograph tweeted by President Obama’s campaign captured it all: The Obamas wrapped in one another’s arms, an island of love amidst the whirlwind of presidential politics and public life.

The now-iconic photograph seems to affirm yet again that our president is a terrific husband and father. He gazes warmly at his wife, hugs and praises his daughters, and works hard. Those of us who grew up without our married mom and dad can especially appreciate the ways that Obama has sought to give his kids the stable family he did not have. We are trying our best to do that too.

During his presidency, Obama has said why fathers matter. This year he told Americans that gay marriage matters. Now, as scholars who are convinced that stable families make a world of difference for children, we would like to challenge him: Can he talk about—and can he lead America—on the vital question of how marriage matters for all children?

Few including our president seem to have noticed that even as the question of gay marriage has dominated public life for nearly a decade, marriage in the broad middle of our nation—among the nearly 60 percent of Americans who are high school educated but not college educated—has been falling apart. As recently as the 1980s, only 13 percent of children of moderately educated mothers were born outside of marriage. Now, this figure is approaching 50 percent. And in marked contrast to past calls for attention to changing trends in family structure, today almost none of our political and social leaders are talking about this dramatic change.

Why should our nation care? Marriage is not merely a private arrangement; it is also a complex institution that serves a range of private and public purposes. Marriage fosters small cooperative unions that enable children to thrive, shore up communities, and help family members to succeed during good times and to weather the bad times. Researchers are finding that the disappearance of marriage in what we might call “Middle America” is tracking with the disappearance of the middle class in the same communities, a change that strikes at the heart of the American Dream.

Yet in the face of today’s marriage challenge, most of what we hear even from political and social leaders who think marriage is important is silence, tentativeness or, worse, despair. Even those who believe marriage matters seem to think that nothing can be done.

We beg to differ. In a new report called “The President’s Marriage Agenda for the Forgotten Sixty Percent,” just released in the annual journal “State of Our Unions,” we come together with colleagues to offer America’s leaders, including our president, a marriage agenda. Among our ten proposals for federal and state policies and cultural change to renew marriage in Middle America are to eliminate marriage penalties and disincentives for the poor, for unwed mothers, and for older Americans, and to help young men become marriageable men. We argue that even small, incremental changes will reduce suffering for children and their families and will yield significant cost savings for taxpayers.

At its root, the decline of marriage in Middle America imperils the middle class and fosters a society of winners and losers. Those born to married, well-educated parents are increasingly likely to have the same advantages when they become adults, graduating from four-year colleges and establishing marriages that are, on average, more stable and of better quality than in the recent past. But those born to fragmented families are increasingly likely to repeat their parents’ patterns and to experience the heartache, hardship, and risks that result. In America, marriage has always been and remains a vital pathway to making good on the American Dream. For the sake of today’s young people and their children, we invite our president and our nation’s leaders to join us in renewing marriage for all Americans in the years to come.

Elizabeth Marquardt of the Institute for American Values and W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia are authors of “The President’s Marriage Agenda for the Forgotten Sixty Percent
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  • khunying_2000

    Mind your own marriage.

  • JayJonson

    One cannot help but note that the authors of this blog have been active in the anti-gay marriage movement. It is more than a little hypocritical of them to criticize the President for focusing too much on gay marriage, when they have devoted a great deal of time and effort to attempting to defeat it. They have both been involved in creating junk science in efforts to discredit gay and lesbian parents–Wilcox helped facilitate the notorius Regnerus study and serves on the board of the Witherspoon Institute, which spent almost a million dollars buying it, while Marquardt churns out non-peer-reviewed reports for the Institute of American Values–nearly all of whose publications also attack gay and lesbian families. In short, these people have no credibility to make the argument that the President should be concentrating on something “more important” than gay marriage.

  • Catken1

    Not to mention the fact that people who attack others’ marriages and try to weaken them and hurt their families are not the best spokespeople for strong marriages at all.

    It’s like Richard Dawkins arguing for strengthening religious education, or Rush Limbaugh coming out for civil discourse.

  • JayJonson

    I rather doubt that their proposed “marriage agenda” includes any “incentives” encouraging gay people to marry.

  • cricket44

    Gay marriage IS marriage. So why are you acting like there are two different institutions?

  • jay2drummer

    But there are 2 different issues. One is marriage equality. The other is the question of the role marriage plays in society, whether for heterosexual or homosexual couples, and that’s what this article was focusing on.

  • StraightGrandmother

    A review off all these Annual Marriage Reports going back to 1999 shows that not once in prior years, do the authors call out a President.

    It is curious, is it not, that the authors are challenging THIS President but for 12 years never did so before in their reports. And then these two conservative authors follow up with this highly political article in WaPo. They were not laying on Bush the decline of Marriage in America, now Obama is responsible because he rightly and courageously came out for Civil Marriage for Sexual Minorities? So because Obama if for Marriage Civil Rights for Sexual Minorities he has to give equal time to hetrosexual marriages? That is the way I am reading the report and this article. If anybody needs a visit to the woodshed it is the Boehner Republican Controlled obstructionist House NOT Obama.

    Why were they not directly addressing Presient Bush in their Annual Reports in the eight years he was President?

    It was a mistake to politicize thier Annual Report. It is simply a swipe at Obama becasue he has stood up for Equal Civil Marriage for Sexual Minorities. And not only that, the report completely ignores the Marriages of Sexual Minorities and the penalties and stigmitization those couples face. If they were going to politicize thier work, which they do, then they should have Gone-All-The-Way and advocated the repeal of DOMA, which the report noticibly does NOT DO. But the report does take a swipe at anonomous sperm donors which is a fertility service that many lesbain couples utilize.

    The report is quite pointed in what actions “The President” should take, e.g. triple the Child Exemption Credit but nowhere does it metion the biggest meanest law there is, that even has the word “Marriage” in the name of the law, The Defense of Marriage Act. They should re-name the Report, “Annual Report on Heterosexual Marriages” at least that would be an honest captioning of their work. They know DOMA hurts gay marriages, they just don’t care.