KHI News Service

Governor wants marriage-friendly social policies

SRS chief talks about new initiative

By Dave Ranney | June 08, 2011

Government should be doing more to promote healthy marriages, Gov. Sam Brownback said Wednesday.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in homeless shelters and the thing that’s the most striking to me is the number of people there who’ve blown through their relationships,” and become dependent on charity or government, he said.

Helping people salvage their troubled marriages, he said, would help reverse the trend.

“At the end of life, we will not be measured by position or wealth," Brownback said, addressing a gathering of marriage advocates at Newman University, a Catholic liberal arts college. "We will be measured by love, the amount we have loved, the amount we have loved others – that’s a direct quote of Mother Teresa.”

Government, he said, has an obligation to help, “people in difficult circumstances,” but not in a way that’s “harmful to family formation and the family structure.”

Won't penalize marriage

Brownback said he’s instructed Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Rob Siedleki to do what he can to reverse any policies that discourage marriage.

Siedlecki, who also addressed the Kansas Family Strengthening Summit, said he was aware of welfare recipients who choose to live together out of wedlock because if they were to marry, they would receive fewer government benefits.

He vowed to change the policy.

“We in the Brownback administration firmly believe that the government should be supportive of the decision to marry, not penalizing it,” Siedlecki said.

Kansas Healthy Marriage Initiative

SRS, he said, is preparing to launch a Kansas Healthy Marriage Initiative. It’s expected to include:

· A compilation of “county-by-county, baseline statistics” on marriage, divorce, poverty, and out-of- wedlock births. “We have to know where we’re starting from if we want to know where we have to go,” Siedlecki said. It wasn't immediately clear how the statistics would differ from those already collected by the Bureau of Vital Statistics at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

· A list of available marriage enrichment programs.

· A training program for SRS workers on how to encourage healthy marriage.

· A survey of Kansans’ attitudes toward marriage, divorce, cohabitation, and out-of-wedlock births.

· A public relations campaign promoting the benefits of marriage.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Siedlecki said. “We believe that once the general public knows the truth about the benefits of marriage to children, adults and society as a whole they will more likely support our efforts. As they say, ‘The truth will make you free.’”

Siedlecki said he would make sure the initiative, “is actually helping the institution of marriage rather than wasting taxpayer money.”

Neither official said how much the initiative would cost or how it would be funded.

The governor and the secretary each spoke for about 10 minutes to the crowd of about 350 people. Most people who attended seemed pleased by the men's remarks.

“I thought (the governor's) comments were really relevant, timely and spoken from the heart, spoken as a father and husband and as somebody who’s really concerned about the state of families in Kansas," said Sandy Pickert, one of the event organizers and executive director of Pure and Simple, a Wichita-based group that encourages sexual abstinence before marriage. “He’s trying to help be part of a solution to strengthen families because that is the core unit and if we don’t have strong families we’re not going to have a strong economy and the future is going to be bleak.”

Critical questions

But the governor took three questions from the audience and two of those were from people critical of his administration's views or actions.

Fred James, an advocate for the mentally ill, asked Brownback to reconcile his support for healthy marriage with recent cuts in SRS spending for social services.

Brownback assured James that he was committed to “growing the economy,” which eventually should generate enough growth in state revenue to restore some of the spending cuts.

But the governor also said it could take five or 10 years to rebuild the economy and that he would not raise taxes.

James, a long-time board member for Breakthrough, a street-level program for the mentally ill in Wichita, later told KHI News Service that, “mental illness is devastating to marriage, absolutely devastating. It’s an issue we deal with all the time. And yet because of the cuts, we just had to lay off all our case managers and our executive director. It’s been brutal – that’s the only word for it.”

Diane Held, one of many school counselors who attended, asked the governor if the healthy marriage initiative would avoid “degrading” single mothers and homosexual couples.

Brownback said he preferred to not discuss homosexual marriage because Kansas voters had made it illegal.

Held, who is lesbian, said she was disappointed by the governor’s response.

“I don’t see how he’s going to avoid alienating all kinds of people with this – not just homosexuals,” she said. “At my job, I work with all kinds of single people who are raising kids, who aren’t married, and who aren’t in a position to get married.”

The summit is scheduled to continue Thursday.

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