The hidden agenda in marriage proposals
By Chris Bell
The Examiner, Friday, April 20, 2007
All divorcees really needed was a little classroom instruction. Who knew? Apparently, the Republicans, and now they're taking action. Under their proposed legislation, Texas couples who take an eight-hour course in conflict management and communication skills will get their marriage licenses for free while the uneducated will see their license fees doubled to $60.
The goal of the bill is to reduce the need for poverty programs by lowering the divorce rate. It's part of the Texas Conservative Coalition's agenda which also includes lengthening the waiting period before a no-fault divorce can be finalized.
The proposed legislation is painfully simplistic and represents a shallowness of thought that's somewhat breathtaking even for the far right. While marriage counseling is highly advisable and required by many churches before a ceremony will be performed, it's hardly any type of guarantee of a solid union.
A class might offer couples some ideas and skills to draw upon when the going gets tough, but to pretend that's going to result in a greatly reduced poverty rate is pure fantasy.
The bill assumes that it's divorce that could lead someone into poverty, while completely overlooking the fact that perhaps poverty had a large hand in the marital strife to begin with. Nothing causes bigger problems in a marriage than financial challenges, but instead of a willingness to invest in programs that could possibly give people a leg up and provide access to the tools and resources they need to get ahead, the stated goal is to be able to cut back on those very programs in the future.
When will the far right learn that fixing what ails us in Texas is neither simple nor inexpensive? We have one of the highest poverty rates in the entire country. That's not the least bit surprising when one considers the fact that we also have the highest dropout rate.
Education is the only proven poverty prevention program in the world. However, instead of making the necessary investment in public schools and doing everything we can to make sure that young people will have that key to unlock a bright future, we continue to put Band-Aids on gaping wounds and allow the far right to cloud the discussion with ideas like required marriage counseling.
We're fooling ourselves by continuing to take the magic wand approach to governing: A simple change here and a simple change there and poof n the glory days of Texas are back! But we didn't get in the position of competing for last place overnight, and there is no quick fix. We have seen years of conscious indifference to the less fortunate in our state.
Now people are waking up to the fact that it's not just somebody else's problem; poverty comes with a high price tag for us all. We need to take a serious approach to eradicating it. Required marriage counseling is far from a serious approach. In fact, it's borderline ridiculous.
Here is last week's essay about teaching the bible in public school:
By Chris Bell
The Examiner, Friday, April 13, 2007
I wish Warren Chisum was Jewish. Or some other religion. Or maybe just not such a zealot. Then I could possibly have some faith that he's well intentioned. But there's just something about a right-wing Christian Republican representative from Pampa who has been the driving force behind so many far right initiatives in recent years proposing that the Bible be required teaching in public high schools that touches a nerve.
Taken at face value, I have no problem with the proposal. The Bible is fascinating, and there's no question that young people, regardless of faith, could gain much by knowing more about it. I know that from personal experience. However, ironically, the person who taught me the most about the Bible was Jewish.
I had the privilege of visiting Israel a few years ago, and the gentleman who served as our tour guide was a Biblical scholar. Being in that special place with someone who knew so much caused the Bible to come alive.
My concern is not over the separation of church and state. I'm cynical enough to believe the very reason Rep. Chisum is making his proposal is because he would like to see exactly what concerns the critics: Bible courses not designed to educate about the history contained therein but, rather, courses that will attempt to convert students to Christianity. That's called proselytizing, and it has no place in our public school system.
We've already seen what can happen. More than 20 high schools in Texas currently offer Bible courses. The Texas Freedom Network, a nonpartisan group of community and religious leaders which serves as somewhat of a watchdog over the religious right, did a study of those courses and found only three were really sticking to a truly educational format.
One district reportedly went so far as to offer a PowerPoint presentation titled "God's Roadway for Your Life" with slides proclaiming, "Jesus Christ is the one and only way."
Just as in government, being in the religious majority calls for a certain level of responsibility, including respect for the views of others. Some are worried about the lawsuits that could be spawned by Chisum's legislation if passed. And while I'm sure there would be a lot, that's the least of my worries. I'm more concerned by the opportunity the legislation would create to trample on the beliefs and feelings of others.
Imagine how a non-Christian might feel attending or even just hearing about the "God's Roadway for Your Life" presentation. Years ago, I attended a local Jewish organization's luncheon. The blessing was said in Hebrew. I understood none of it, and I felt somewhat out of place. As we sat down, a member of the organization said it should have been said in English as well. Former State Representative Paul Colbert, who is Jewish and extraordinarily bright, was also at the table. He said, "No — that was the whole point." I've never forgotten it.
Needless to say, Warren Chisum wasn't at the table.
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