Grant to assist marriage

A U professor will use the federal grant to help urban couples considering marriage.

Patricia Drey

A University professor will use nearly $1 million in federal grant money for a project that will assist single parents interested in marriage.

Professor William Doherty will direct a project to help lower-income urban families maintain two-parent households.

Doherty said parents’ breakups often precede a parent going on welfare.

“Those children have a lot of risks for their future for poverty, for academic achievement, for psychological adjustment problems,” Doherty said.

The project will connect mentor couples with those wishing to get married. The mentors will be urban couples who had children outside of marriage but are now married and raising their children, he said.

While other states have put money into existing services, the project is an attempt to discover a new way to solve social problems, Doherty said.

“We’re assuming that we don’t know yet what’s going to help,” Doherty said. “We’re going to start in the community.”

The grant requires that $500,000 of funding also come from local sources. Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, proposed legislation that would increase marriage licensing fees by $5 to raise the required local funding, Doherty said.

Susan Warfield, director of the University Student Parent HELP Center, said she has been a social worker for 20 years and has some concerns about the project.

“I have fears that this focus on marriage is only going to further stigmatize single parents and their children,” Warfield said.

She said she wonders where project funding is coming from and is concerned it could be taken away from supporting families in other ways.

Wade Horn, U.S. assistant secretary for children and families, said the federal government is not trying to coerce people into marriage, trap anyone in an abusive relationship or withdraw support from single parents.

Rather, he said the government wants to provide low-income people with the option of marriage education – an option higher-income people already have.

“We think that the government should not interfere with the individual decision-making of couples as to whether or not they should get married,” Horn said. “All we’re trying to do with marriage education is to add another arrow in the quiver of social services so that if it’s appropriate and helpful for a particular couple, they have access to it.”

Queer Student Cultural Center co-chairman Luciano Patino said he is concerned the project might reinforce arguments often used against gay marriage.

“I’m afraid that a study like this is going to support the idea that the only purpose of marriage is to have children and have a family, and I don’t think that is the case,” Patino said.

Because the welfare system has encouraged people not to get married and have more children, the federal government ought to fund a project like this, Campus Republicans Chairman Dan Nelson said.

“Considering how much damage the federal government has caused on the family over the past 40 years, I think it might be a good idea to invest money in encouraging people to get married,” Nelson said. “In the past it was just a matter of course that if you had kids you would be married.”