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Not surprisingly, those who have done so were already at low risk for divorce. In early , the legislature passed a resolution urging the governor to appoint a council on marriage that would develop, monitor, and evaluate marriage policy, programs, curricula, publicity, and the delivery of services to families to ensure that the state is not undermining or discouraging marriage in any way. Oklahoma Oklahoma has taken the legislative lead in state-based efforts to strengthen marriage.

In June , Governor Frank Keating R convened the Governor's and First Lady's Conference on Marriage, bringing together leaders from the business community, religious congregations, education, and government, as well as service providers and the media, to forge the nation's first state action plan for reducing divorce. Governor Keating also announced the goal of reducing the state's divorce rate by one-third by In , the state took steps to eliminate the disadvantage in the way income is calculated for married stepparents compared with cohabiting partners. Similar changes were made in the way the state calculates eligibility for child-care benefits.

There are now fewer incentives for low-income or welfare couples to live together outside of marriage in order to collect higher benefits. Other elements of the Oklahoma initiative include:. The establishment of a marriage resource center to provide information on marriage and mentors to couples;. A public education campaign on the importance of marriage;.

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  • An outreach program to change the attitudes of youth about marriage;. An effort to promote Community Marriage Policies and develop community-based marriage-strengthening programs with pastors;. Funding a one-year scholar-in-residence chair at Oklahoma State University, to be filled by a nationally respected expert on marriage;.

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    Training for state workers, such as agricultural extension service workers and public health nurses, to help them teach marriage skills courses at the community level;. An improved data-gathering system to document marriages and divorces in the state; and. Utah Under the leadership of Governor Michael Leavitt, efforts to rebuild marriage within the state are mounting.

    In , Governor Leavitt organized a Governor's Commission on Marriage to identify programs and tools that could strengthen marriage. The legislature also formed a Marriage Commission two years ago and raised the minimum marriage age from 14 to Governor Leavitt presides over an annual Marriage Week each February, and regional marriage conferences featuring the governor and his wife are hosted around the state.

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    Utah promotes marriage education in its high schools, adding a marriage component to the civics class, "Adult Roles and Responsibilities. Wisconsin is the first state to fund a full-time worker whose job is to create Community Marriage Policies.

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    The American Civil Liberties Union successfully challenged an earlier legislative attempt that focused on church initiatives to restore marriage. The reworded legislation now includes judges and magistrates, who also officiate at marriages, and it should withstand a court challenge. Other States Summits similar to Utah's that involve stakeholders in business, health care, education, counseling, clergy, social work, media, and marriage education have been held in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.

    In , the Maryland and Minnesota legislatures passed laws that would establish programs to encourage marriage education, but these bills were vetoed by the states' respective governors--Parris Glendening D and Jesse Ventura Ind. The original sponsors, Delegates John R. Ironically, though the data show that domestic violence is much lower among married couples, advocates against domestic violence have already captured most of the marriage license money.

    In reshaping and resubmitting the bill, the sponsors have consulted widely with county clerks in an effort to avoid the governor's veto. Increasingly, liberal and conservative policy analysts agree that divorce and out-of-wedlock births have long-lasting detrimental effects on women, children, and society; but evidence is growing in the private sector that government can help to reverse this pattern.

    By studying and applying what is already working in the states and local communities--the laboratories of effective public policy--it should be possible to reduce the divorce rate by as much as one-third to one-half in a few short years.

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    The most important elements of such an effort are 1 good program outcome data with which to identify the best practices in the different fields and 2 the will to apply the findings to federal, state, and local policies and programs. Several non-governmental programs appear to reduce divorce significantly and to drive down the numbers of out-of-wedlock births while increasing marriage. Communities that have established Marriage Savers congregations and Community Marriage Covenants are demonstrating the most success in decreasing divorce. Congregations with such mentors have helped up to 90 percent of troubled married couples who have come forward.

    A full-service program should incorporate seven key church activities:. A minimum of four months' preparation before marriage;. Training for mentoring couples in how to use inventory results to facilitate discussion about issues on which the couple agrees and disagrees. In Rockford, Illinois, the First Assembly of God trained 14 "back-from-the-brink" couples in their church to work with troubled marriages.

    Local therapists learned about this "Marriage Ministry" and sent dozens of their toughest cases to the First Assembly. In three years, First Assembly's mentors have met with more than married couples headed for divorce and have saved all but four of them. Mentoring for stepfamilies. According to federal survey data, 20 percent of American children were living with stepparents in Four out of five participating couples have kept their marriages intact over the study period--a result almost twice the normal outcome for stepfamilies. A few pastors and congregations have implemented all seven of these elements in their parishes.

    Over cities have signed Community Marriage Covenants to motivate Marriage Saver congregations and civic leaders to rally communities behind efforts to strengthen marriage. Many cities with Community Marriage Covenants report reductions of up to 47 percent in their divorce rates. Since then, the divorce rate has plunged The dramatic difference in divorce rates between Kansas City, Kansas, which has a Marriage Saver program, and Kansas City, Missouri, which does not, demonstrates the effects of marriage-based strategies. In Kansas City, Kansas, and its suburbs, the number of divorces has plunged Only 40 pastors--a small fraction of the number of clergy in the two-county area--had signed the Community Marriage Policy, but The Kansas City Star had published a number of stories about the initiative.

    The difference: All of the clergy participating in the Community Marriage Covenant and all of the stories written about the initiative were in Kansas, not Missouri. One state developed a visibly pro-marriage climate; the other plodded along without changing attitudes or expectations. Officials in every state should encourage community leaders to establish and expand Marriage Savers programs. The courts have used Focused Thinking Mediation for their most acrimonious post-divorce cases, which represent an average of 20 court dockets per couple per year and on average stayed before the court for 2.

    Of the 26 couples who have participated in the course, all but two have reached amicable agreements and have not returned to the courts. Trained mediators, who could be lawyers, social workers, or other mediators, would work with a couple to help them begin to communicate more effectively, usually for the first time in years.

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    If the experience in South Africa is any indication, many couples will reconsider their decision to divorce and decide instead to rebuild their marriages based on clear communication and agreement. State and local officials should consider sponsoring Focused Thinking Mediation institutes to train and credential private- and public-sector mediators.

    The direct benefits to the states would include fewer divorces and lower demand for services; reduced court costs; and fewer women and children falling into poverty. Early initiation of sexual intercourse in teens reduces the likelihood of stable marriage later on and increases the likelihood of multiple sexual partners and sexually transmitted diseases, out-of-wedlock births, and abortions.

    This school-based voluntary and volunteer-run mentoring program for girls begins in the fifth grade. It encourages the girls to articulate their goals and to support each other as they try to reach those goals. Because out-of-wedlock pregnancy and birth can derail a girl's best intentions, especially among girls in poor communities where married family life is not the norm, such support is vital.

    The results are impressive: Only 1 percent of program participants became pregnant during a period of about eight years from the inception of the program to the year of its evaluation , and 90 percent have remained sexually abstinent. For teenagers in an inner-city environment in which the overall teen pregnancy rate can range from 80 percent to 90 percent, this is a remarkable achievement.

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    The National Fatherhood Initiative NFI is a seven-year-old program that is proving to be very effective in motivating fathers to become more active in their families. These assessments help couples improve their relationships by getting them to discuss potential areas of conflict--like managing finances and having children--and actions that could create anger or alienation. These courses and tools, as well as programs like PAIRS, 55 Relationship Enhancement, 56 and others, 57 help couples learn such skills as problem solving, listening, and effective forms of communicating that can strengthen their relationship.

    Though cultural attitudes, social science findings, and social policies have begun to recognize the importance of supporting marriage and decreasing the incidence of divorce, the policies and activities of state governments are still biased against marriage.

    This bias amplifies the damage caused by decades of misguided federal welfare policy that has virtually eliminated marriage among the poor and federal tax policy that is penalizing marriage. Regardless of whether additional welfare reform is passed at the federal level, states can alter the way they spend their revenue, administer their programs, collect data and conduct research, select high school curricula, enact laws, and even talk about marriage. Like Oklahoma, Arkansas, and the other states that are implementing marriage-based policies, the remaining states should begin to focus their efforts on reducing divorce and out-of-wedlock births and increasing marriage.

    Among the specific steps they can take are the following:. Set a goal of reducing out-of-wedlock births and divorce by 33 percent in each state by Based on the success of various initiatives already in place around the country, such a goal is both realistic and attainable. All that is needed is to harness each state's unique resources to design programs that would best address their needs.

    Make a concerted effort to use TANF surplus revenues on programs that increase marriage and decrease divorce among the poor As noted, there are many resources and much expertise around the country that, if harnessed, could improve couples' prospects of entering a solid marriage. A strong case can be made for creating a state Office of Marriage Initiatives to encourage marriage and discourage divorce, particularly among the poor or near poor, and reduce the burden on taxpayers.

    The charitable choice provision in the TANF legislation would apply to such spending.