An advertisement for a trip to Yellowstone National Park

With a growing percentage of Americans avoiding wedlock, the federal government has decided to fund a $5 million media campaign to promote marriage, beginning this month. That’s right, a whopping $5 million. The federal government apparently doesn’t think much about advancing the benefits of marriage in a culture of divorce, non-commitment and children born out-of-wedlock.

Of course, that assessment is neither fair nor accurate. The federal government does care deeply about what healthy and unhealthy marriages do to the fabric of a society. The federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars attempting to strengthen marriages and to encourage fatherhood.

Yet such a barbed, opening critique does help to underscore the ridiculously small amount for a national advertising campaign.

Our government has spent a lot more money on media campaigns about harmful drugs ”cigarettes, alcohol and illegal drugs. Under the Clinton administration, the government had a $2 billion anti-drug media campaign. A few years ago, the federal government had a $125 million anti-obesity campaign and a $30 million push for seatbelt usage. A $5 million campaign to start a conversation might not start much of a conversation.

Nonetheless, the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center is heading up the media campaign targeting Americans between the ages of 18 and 30, according to USA Today.

NHMRC is a federally funded clearinghouse that works with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families and receives funding from a variety of national foundations, including the well-recognized Annie E. Casey Foundation.

NHMRC’s campaign is much needed, if a survey about the attitudes of young Americans is accurate.

Encapsulating a survey by the youth research firm TRU, which specializes in tweens, teens and twenty-somethings, USA Today reported that:

  • 22 percent of Americans between 18 and 30 years old had a strong belief in the institution of marriage, compared to
  • 14 percent expressed strong sentiments against marriage,
  • 22 percent weren’t ready for marriage, but said they eventually planned to marry, and
  • 23 percent had a practical view of marital unions and often live together.

No wonder the statistics show that an increasing percentage of Americans are not marrying.

To counter the decline in marriages and the attitudes of young Americans, the ad campaign is reportedly about highlighting the benefits of marriage, not pressuring young Americans to get married.

The benefits of marriage are no doubt hard to discern given the failed marriages of older Americans and the culture of promiscuity.

Aside from the moral arguments for marriage, social researchers argue that marriage does have proven benefits. Married Americans have more wealth and better health. Children are surely better off in married households than non-married families.

Yet this ad campaign will come under fire.

President Clinton’s domestic policy advisor, William Galston, told USA Today that the federal government was caught between two competing truths with its initiative on marriage.

“One truth is we really do need a national conversation about marriage. Marriage rates have been dropping. Young adults are concerned and confused about the issue. They don’t know exactly where to turn, said Galston, who spoke at a 1995 Baptist Center for Ethics conference.

“On the other hand, there is a real and justified suspicion about the role that government can play in this discussion,” he said.

Libertarians will scream that the government has no role in the bedroom, misrepresenting the campaign’s purpose. Church-state separation advocates will rightly warn about the dangers of promoting a religious view of marriage. Gay-rights activists will yell discrimination. Fundamentalist Christians will try to hitch an anti-gay marriage hook onto this initiative.

These kinds of reactions will spark a larger conversation about marriage. But will it be a positive or negative conversation about the benefits of marriage?

Robert Parham is executive editor of and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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