I just celebrated my 47th wedding anniversary. I’m the child of parents who were married for 37 years, and the only thing that broke up that union was the death of my father. I believe that children thrive in families with two married, fully participating and emotionally healthy parents. Such a family is able to withstand what life throws at it, from the trials of a bad economy to the frustrations of everyday living. But not everybody has that kind of marriage.
To argue – as the Brownback Administration appears to be doing – that marriage alone will end poverty is simplistic, at the very least, and potentially dangerous. I am particularly concerned that the Governor opened his child poverty town hall meetings this week with a speaker who declared that encouraging marriage is the most effective tool policymakers can use to fight poverty.
Marriage can be wonderful, but it can also be horrific.
Before I ever thought about entering politics, I ran the YWCA in Topeka. A year after I started as executive director in 1977, I helped create the city’s Battered Women’s Task Force. I counseled hundreds of women who were facing domestic violence. I found them shelter and helped them put their lives back together.
I learned that living in a family where one parent beats the other parent or beats both mother and child is far more destructive to a daughter or son than living in a single-parent household, even one that struggles to make the rent every month. I learned about the poor or absent parenting skills, alcoholism, drug abuse and mental illness that leads some parents to neglect their children or to physically and emotionally abuse them. And I learned that all of these things occurred in rich families as well as poor ones.
Children in these families were not protected by the fact that their parents were married, or by the fact that their parents had money. The only way to end these children’s suffering was to get them and their mothers away from their abusers.
Ending childhood poverty is a laudable objective, but we can only reach that goal by creating more jobs, improving our schools and guaranteeing high quality and affordable childcare, among other things. I applaud the idea of encouraging marriage, but complex problems like poverty require real solutions.
Joan Wagnon retired in January as the Secretary of Revenue for the state of Kansas. She is the chair of the Kansas Democratic Party.
Marriage will not end poverty in Kansas