Item from the Smart
Marriages Archive, reproduced in the Divorce Statistics
August 11, 1999 USA TODAY
Marriage Matters - except to bean counters
By Michael Medved
(A marriage impacts more than the principals. It influences the community,
social continuity, the future -- all in profoundly positive ways.)
In order to protest an especially misguided decision by the U.S. Census
Bureau, I spent a recent Sunday evening with 200 other demonstrators,
drinking glass after glass of kosher champagne and dancing myself into a
Actually, the traditional Jewish wedding of two close friends hadn't been
planned as a public response to the follies of policymakers in Washington.
But even if the bureaucratic bumblers took little note of our festive
gathering, its unmistakable meaning conflicted with the very essence of
new and singularly foolish government policy.
In the year 2000, the Census short form received by more than 80% of all
American households will, for the first time, pose no questions at all
about marital status. The feds feel perfectly comfortable asking about
race, and they've included a special, additional inquiry on "Hispanic
origin," but they no longer want to learn whether you're married, single,
widowed or divorced.
The long form going out to about 16 million households (which the agency
says takes 38 minutes to complete, rather than the short form's 10
still includes the basic questions about marital status.
But the changes in the ubiquitous short form -- the only contact with the
Census process for the vast majority of citizens -- remain highly
significant. According to marriage therapist Diane Sollee, coordinator of
Washington conference, Smart Marriages, Happy Families, this decision --
forced, Census officials say, by budget cuts -- sends "a message about
the government sees as important. That message is that nobody cares
anymore" about marriage.
If that is the case, then why do all of today's politicians prattle so
passionately about marriage and family? If personal life amounts to
more than a purely private concern, how is it that the leaders of both
parties seem so determined to make it a public issue?
Every one of the Republican presidential candidates promotes new
governmental initiatives to support the institution of marriage, and Vice
President Al Gore unabashedly offered "faith and family" as the
of his announcement of candidacy. In fact, when endorsing Gore at a
carefully choreographed event on June 1, Hillary Rodham Clinton
specifically cited his exemplary record as a family man. Using exactly the
same words, she twice described the vice president as a "remarkable
and father." If marital status hardly matters anymore, then why mention
happy domestic history as one of the vice president's qualifications for
the White House?
Most Americans -- including, apparently, the first lady -- refuse to
the idea that we live in a post-marriage age. Ironically, at the very
moment that our officially empowered pulse-takers disregard marital status
as a subject worth noting on Census forms, the public seems more
convinced than ever before that knowing someone's domestic arrangements
tells us something important about him.
Certainly, it tells us something more significant than questions about
or about "Hispanic origin," which the short form still contains.
Nearly all Americans accept the idea that it makes sense for the
and the legal system to treat people differently after they marry. This
personal commitment involves public consequences concerning taxes,
division, personal estate and many other areas.
That's why so many leaders of the gay community plead for society to
sanction same-sex marriage: They acknowledge that official recognition of
this institution is appropriate and important, and want that recognition
extended to homosexual unions. Gay activists care profoundly about this
issue not because they dismiss the importance of marriage, but because
understand -- and endorse -- the overwhelming importance of such social
Racial classification, on the other hand, strikes many people as
unnecessary and unfair, and surveys suggest that most of us remain
distinctly uncomfortable with government treating citizens differently
according to the color of their skin. For one thing, so many Americans
boast mixed ancestry today that Census respondents frequently can provide
only uncertain or arbitrary answers to questions about their origins.
Moreover, if the short form can't be bothered with asking whether you're
married, then why should it demand two different responses involving
identity? There has always been an official, bureaucratic component to
marriage -- going to city hall to get a wedding license -- but it's a
characteristic of wretched, racist regimes (Nazi Germany, the old Soviet
Union, apartheid South Africa) to require a designation of ethnicity on
government forms and identity cards.
The joyous celebrants at the wedding I just attended understood
truths that the Census Bureau chooses to ignore. The fact that the glowing
groom and gorgeous bride decided to formalize their relationship is not
private matter: It is profoundly public. The giddy guests toast one
and exchange hearty congratulations (Mazel tov!) because they're happy not
just for the new couple; they are also happy for themselves.
A marriage impacts more than the principals. It influences the community,
social continuity, the future -- all in profoundly positive ways.
Despite recent suggestions that your personal life is "nobody's business,"
we seem increasingly eager to affirm that the covenant of marriage is
everybody's business. Just check the latest styles and trends: Quiet
elopements and Las Vegas wedding chapels are out, and big, blowout
and receptions are back in.
That's especially appropriate at a moment when leaders of every political
persuasion agree that the institution of matrimony deserves special
encouragement and support, not new expressions of public contempt.
Maybe, someday, even the boneheaded bean counters at the Census Bureau may
get the message. And when they do, let me be the first to wish them Mazel
Michael Medved, happily married for 14 years, hosts a daily national talk
radio show. He is a member of the board of contributors for USA TODAY.
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