If the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and other such groups believe that this nation is headed for disaster because the institution of marriage is collapsing, they, and not government, should put up the money to encourage couples to marry and stay married.
The Bush administration's point man on family issues, Wade Horn, is reportedly so taken with a Heritage Foundation marriage-encounter proposal that he wants Congress to adopt it. Under the plan, a woman who bears her first child in wedlock and stays married would receive an annual reward of $1,000 in cash for five years.
As Horn, the new assistant secretary for family support, sees it, government "needs to show that it values marriage by rewarding those who choose it." We have no doubt that he and his boss, President Bush, are sincere when they decry the current state of matrimony in this country -- married couples make up barely half of all American households -- and feel the need to do something.
But using taxpayer dollars to prop up marriages is not the answer. Such a government program would be impossible to monitor.
Matrimony cops: Would the Bush administration create a special law enforcement unit -- matrimony cops -- to make sure that couples receiving federal dollars are actually living as man and wife, sharing hearth and home, keeping their vows?
Just imagine the rules and regulations that would have to be developed to govern the expenditure of these public funds.
What if the man has a history of abusing his wife, but she refuses to leave him because she would lose the $1,000 a year? Is the Bush administration prepared to take responsibility for whatever harm comes to such an individual?
If the Heritage Foundation believes that the way to bolster marriage in this country is to pay a bonus to couples, it should launch a privately-financed initiative. That way, it could establish whatever rules it deems necessary -- and simply disregard the concerns of single parents, gay parents and people who just don't want to marry.
Government, on the other hand, must take into consideration the discriminatory aspects of using public dollars to encourage women and men to marry and stay married. Horn insists that he will not do anything to hurt nontraditional families and that his goal is to remove any impediments to marriage that are found in the federal welfare system.
There are many things the Bush administration can do to foster marriage, especially when there are children involved, but using taxpayer dollars as bribes should not be one of them.