Trump’s new nominee for the Federal Reserve Board, Stephen Moore, is a marriage fundamentalist who believes the institution is the solution to the nation’s woes. Despite all evidence pointing to the contrary, this extremist candidate believes that “the best anti-poverty program in America may not be tax cuts, debt reduction or regulatory relief, but rather that old-fashioned institution called marriage.”
His belief isn’t just wrong—it’s also dangerous.
A newly released report, The Case Against Marriage Fundamentalism: Embracing Family Justice for All, by Family Story, the think tank I lead, shows how promoting the supremacy of the married family over all others has created great harm. We outline critical steps America must take to truly ensure that all families, regardless of their makeup, thrive and make real progress toward addressing poverty and inequality.
The elite marriage push, spearheaded by conservatives like Moore, has left a trail of destruction. Moore’s public reverence for marriage is also hard to take seriously given that his own marriage ended following multiple affairs and accusations of “emotional and psychological abuse” from his ex-wife (he was also later reprimanded for failing to pay $300,000 owed in spousal and child support). Like many social conservatives who adorn themselves with the family values emblem, his actions and values are almost comically misaligned.
But Moore is not alone. For decades, too many politicians have pushed the impractical notion that marriage will save us from poverty, inequality, and all of life’s ills. It’s a fool’s errand. Despite massive sums of cash dedicated to the cause, including over a billion dollars on taxpayer-sponsored “marriage promotion” programs, this obsession with marriage has failed to fix any of our nation’s challenges and hasn’t reduced poverty or inequality as promised. Discriminatory policies, wasted tax dollars, and moral smugness are all Americans have to show for it.
The United States privileges married couples to the detriment of everyone else. The list of benefits available only to a married partner is long: laws granting automatic rights to make medical decisions on behalf of a spouse; inherit a spouse’s estate in the absence of a will; take actions after a spouse’s death as their next of kin; refuse to testify against a spouse in court; and file joint tax returns.
Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, workers are only entitled to job-protected leave to care for married partners, but not unmarried partners. Social Security, too, provides certain spousal and survivor benefits that are available only to married partners. Various other retirement and disability programs have the same restrictions.
It’s well past time to extend the same legal rights and benefits that married couples enjoy to all types of families, and actively work to reduce cultural stigma. The idea that married two-parent families are the “best” kind of family for raising children has always been an ideological assertion—funded in part by conservative foundations like the Bradley Foundation and pushed by think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, where Moore is a fellow—rather than scientific consensus.
Today, only 48 percent of households include a married couple, and nearly a third of all children in the U.S. lived with an unmarried parent in 2017, a share that has more than doubled over the last half-century. That doesn’t include the many kids with non-parent caretakers, some of whom have married parents who aren’t in one place because of military service, jobs, or school. When we exclude all these families and caretakers from benefits, it adds up.
Our families deserve more than a right-wing ideologue without proper qualifications like Moore who believes that “marriage with a devoted husband and wife in the home is a far better social program than food stamps, Medicaid, public housing or even all of them combined.” Not only is such a belief offensive, but it has no factual basis. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Stephen Moore is a controversial appointment to the Federal Reserve, the central bank responsible for preventing another financial crisis, largely because he’s a pundit who plays loose with facts and manipulates data to serve political ends, a trend that could have a disastrous impact on the stability of our national economy.
What do families today really need from the Trump administration and Congress? Policies that support our families in all our unique forms. To start, that means the government needs to get out of the business of marriage promotion—since we know it’s been a complete policy failure and had no impact on poverty or inequality. Next, we need to ensure that families don’t need to depend on marriage to survive. That means providing comprehensive reproductive health care, paid family leave, guaranteed affordable child care, paid sick days, Social Security benefits that work for unmarried families, and Medicare for All.
The 2020 election season is already kicking into gear, and Americans are seeing a lot of big policy ideas around health care, child care, education, and retirement. That is very good news. But as candidates tour the country, voters must support elected officials who will fight for children and families in all their diverse and legitimate forms, including the half of adults in this country who are not married.