Marriage should be at the center

Published on Friday, 7 March 2014 00:05 - Written by

There is much to admire and commend in President Barack Obama’s recently announced “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative for young black men. Meeting with at-risk boys, Obama said last week, “I explained to them that when I was their age I was a lot like them. I didn’t have a dad in the house. And I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.”

It’s a powerful message from a powerful messenger. Indeed, Obama’s most significant post-presidential legacy could be based around this initiative, as he speculated.

But something’s missing: marriage.

“Search President Obama’s speech to minority youths last Thursday for the word ‘marriage,’ and you will find just one reference, and in a throwaway line at that,” writes Mike Gonzalez in National Review. “There are nine references to ‘men of color’ and three to the minimum wage, but none at all to out-of-wedlock birth rates. There are also zero appeals for more two-parent families, not even of the ‘LGBT’ variety, the only one liberals seem to champion these days.”

Obama’s focus is on incomes, mostly — a valid concern.

“During the first three years of life, a child born into a low-income family hears 30 million fewer words than a child born into a well-off family,” Obama said. “And if a black or Latino kid isn’t ready for kindergarten, he’s half as likely to finish middle school with strong academic and social skills.”

That’s true, but only part of the story. A child is more likely to be born into a low-income family if the parents aren’t married.

“We know that students of color are far more likely than their white classmates to find themselves in trouble with the law,” he continued. “If a student gets arrested, he’s almost twice as likely to drop out of school. By making sure our criminal justice system doesn’t just function as a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails, we can help young men of color stay out of prison, stay out of jail.”

Also true — but statistics also show that an involved father (particularly a father in the home, married to the mother) is an even better predictor of whether a child will get into trouble.

Fatherhood means more than paying child support, Gonzalez points out.

“In the place of marriage-supporting programs, the Obama administration wanted to put the emphasis on ‘responsible fatherhood,’ a phrase the president used again last Thursday,” Gonzalez wrote. “There is an important difference: While the healthy-marriage people stress in-wedlock births and sexual exclusivity, the good-fatherhood people want to teach fathering skills to men while ignoring the first fathering skill: committing in marriage to the child’s mother rather than having multiple sexual partnerships.”

Again, there is much to commend in Obama’s initiative. But marriage should be its foundation.