Recently we were tickled to discover that the Fatherhood and Marriage Leadership Institute is using the existence of our new Get Marriage Out of TANF Coalition as a threat to mobilize pro-marriage-promotion forces to defend their federal funding.
On seeing FAMLI’s dire warning, the director of a marriage counseling program sent AtMP this friendly inquiry:
Wow! You must really believe that you are promoting a good cause. One of my areas of disagreement would be that funding TANF efforts takes away from poverty projects.
Married couples often have a higher family income. Isn’t that in itself proof that poverty is diminished through promotion of healthy marriage?
Why do the two programs have to be mutually exclusive? Your choices are your choices. My choices are mine. If you want to promote your cause, why down play mine?
Here’s a fleshed-out version of the brief response I sent him:
1. Yes, we really do believe our cause is a good one. AtMP’s cause is fairness and equality for all unmarried people, societal support for all healthy relationships, and the end of marital status discrimination, singlism and couplism. Admittedly, a very big vision! There are an infinite number of ways we could work towards our vision; we pick just a handful to work on at a time, and protesting welfare-funded marriage promotion is just one of many issues we have tackled over the years. One reason this issue captures our attention is that many of AtMP’s staff and board members over the years have personal histories and values that center on social justice and anti-poverty work. So it is particularly galling to see anti-poverty funds redirected to marriage promotion.
2. In fact, the federal TANF budget (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) was not increased to fund marriage programs; rather, marriage programs took a slice out of the pie that would otherwise fund more directly targeted anti-poverty programs. Similarly, the FAMLI-led campaign to get each state to allocate 1% of state-controlled TANF funds to marriage programs does not increase the state’s TANF budget to 101% of its former size; rather, it decreases state-funded anti-poverty programs to 99% of their former size. Furthermore, federally funded marriage programs are explicitly not anti-poverty programs: they need not serve low-income people, and their effect on participants’ economic well-being barely made it into the evaluation criteria. (For detail on that, see Let Them Eat Wedding Rings pages 4 and 14.)
 The correlation of marriage with family income does not prove that marriage diminishes poverty! If that’s not obvious, read this. In fact, researchers recognize the importance of the selection effect: people with higher incomes, more education and maybe even more ambition are more likely to choose marriage and to choose to marry similarly situated people. The academic debate is about whether marrying has any significant impact on income beyond the selection effect. Even a glowingly pro-marriage-promotion literature review found that marriage increased men’s incomes by well under 10%.
 “Your choices are your choices. My choices are mine.” This could not be better said! That’s why so many Americans are dismayed that their tax dollars are being spent to tell people that one choice (marriage) is better than another.