U aims to advance healthy marriages

by Cati Vanden Breul

The University will help develop a new marriage-research center with funds from the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on the St. Paul campus last week that a $900,000 grant will be used for the project. It is renewable for up to four years.

Five universities, including the University of Minnesota, will work with the National Council on Family Relations, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization, to create the Healthy Marriage Resource Center during the next five years.

“There is a whole lot of action happening in the country in promoting healthy marriage,” said William Doherty, University family social science professor and head of the University’s involvement in the project.

“When people call me and are interested in healthy-marriage programs, I don’t know where to send them,” Doherty said.

The new center will be a collection of research and information resources, and will have

lists of programs and educational opportunities available for people seeking help with marriage.

The center will create no new programs, but will look at the information already available and put it in one place.

“It will be like a one-stop shopping Web site,” Doherty said. “People will be able to put in their ZIP code and find the best programs in their area,” he said.

Doherty will work with graduate students to find out

what types of programs are available for couples seeking marriage counseling or educational resources. He will also work to find out how they were developed.

They will conduct research at the local and national levels, Doherty said.

Part of the research will deal with faith-based organizations, but there will be no faith requirement and the center is nonpartisan, he said.

“Although everything is wrapped up in politics these days,” said Michael Benjamin, executive director of the National Council on Family Relations.

The issue of marriage has come to the forefront under the leadership of President George W. Bush, he said.

Marriage legislation first became official when the Defense of Marriage Act passed during President Bill Clinton’s term. The act defined marriage as a bond between a man and a woman.

Because the project is federally funded, there can be no information in the center specific to same-sex couples, Doherty and Benjamin said.

“Using the Defense of Marriage Act is a complete cop out,” Queer Student Cultural Center co-chairwoman Emily Souza said.

Souza said she thinks the idea is interesting but feels information on same-sex couples should be included.

“The whole push for marriage resources, etc., is an underhanded attempt at keeping marriage the way it’s defined in conservative Christian doctrine,” Souza said.

Some said they feel the center will be outdated and incomplete if it does not include information on gay marriage.

“Gay couples will be legally wed in Massachusetts, and, eventually, elsewhere,” said Edward Schiappa, University professor of communication studies.

The center should include materials useful to all married citizens if it wants to be a complete source of information, Schiappa said.

Souza said that in five years the government is going to be much more accepting of gay marriage.

“If it’s a long-term project, they need to realize that and plan for the long term,” she said.

There might also be ethical concerns, Schiappa said. Researchers have collected a considerable amount of information on children who are adopted into gay families, he said.

“If the sponsors of this center really care about children and healthy families, they are ethically bound to continue such research, or they will be neglecting the needs of many young children in our county,” Schiappa said.

Doherty said he thinks it would be beneficial to include information on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender marriage, but now it is not possible.

The center plans to have a Web site by early 2005.