Sunday, May 15, 2011

Can Gays Attend $12M 
Fed-Funded CA Marriage Classes?

The California Healthy Marriages Coalition until this week was an organization I had never heard of, but they piqued my curiosity after reading their carefully-worded, and vague, press release urging Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger to serve "as models for the power of conflict resolution."

The release never comes out and says exactly what the group wants the separating couple to do as such models, but it got me thinking. Who funds the group, I wondered. The answer was easy to locate on the CHMC site, in addition to finding details about their programs and services:

In 2006, CHMC received a five-year, $2.4 million per year grant from Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (HHS/ACF), the largest grant ever awarded by HHS/ACF in support of Healthy Marriages.

Through this funding, CHMC partners with a network of 23 faith- and community-based organizations (FBCOs) throughout California. Each of CHMC's funded partner organizations is a coalition consisting of many other FBCOs through which they deliver Marriage Education and Relationship Skills classes ...

A five-year, $2.4 million yearly grant totals up to $12 million, a robust federal chunk of change from American taxpayers, including gay taxpaying citizens.

Searching the Health and Human Services grant archive, I quickly found basic info on the multi-year contract, but not the actual grant. The page for an HHS sub-agency known as the Office of Family Assistance (new to me), awarded the grant to CHMC and shared these details:

Organization Description: California Healthy Marriages Coalition (CHMC) is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to saturate the entire state of California with marriage education ...

Target Population: Married and Unmarried persons in California, ages 15 and older, of all racial, cultural and economic backgrounds.

Allowable Activities: Public advertising campaign (#1); Education in high schools on the value of marriage (#2); Marriage education, marriage skills and relationship skills programs for non-married pregnant women and non-married expectant fathers (#3); Pre-marital education and marriage skills training for engaged couples and for couples interested in marriage (#4); marriage enhancement and marriage skills training programs for married couples (#5) ...

After finding no gay-specific info at CHMC's site, particularly their listings classes, I emailed some questions to Patty Howell, their vice president for operations and media outreach, seeking answers about their views on gay marriage:

Although we realize that gay marriage is an important issue for many people, especially in California, we do not as an organization take any stand for or against gay marriage because it is not our issue. And, there are numerous other important issues--finding a cure for cancer, the war in Iraq, etc.--that do likewise do not address.

Our issue, and the sole focus of our work, is in helping couples and singles above the age of 15 in California develop the skills that enable them to succeed in their relationships. And, yes, the Relationship and Marriage Education programs that we sponsor are open to every person in California aged 15 and above, which is one of the reasons why we insist that our partnering organizations list them on our website.

I pointed out that class listings omitted that gays could attend and if indeed gay couples were welcomed to participate, then CHMC should explicitly say so. Patty Howell's reply:

That's the best I can do for you now. As a Federal grantee, and with the DOMA definition of marriage still on the books, we cannot amend our website as you wish. But, as I say, our classes are open to all Californians aged 15 and above.

And, many of us, myself included, are strongly sympathetic to your interests.

I have no clue as to whether married gay couples, or gay people contemplating domestic partnerships, are interested in federally-funded healthy marriage/health partnership classes, but if the government is going to appropriate taxpayer dollars for them, then classes should be open to all persons regardless of sexual orientation.

Advocates against the institution of marriage should also take a look, if they haven't already, at the huge amounts of taxpayer money annually spent on various programs propping up the institution. Heck, Republican deficit hawks should be made to justify grants to organizations teaching heterosexuals "How to Maximize Valentine's Day" and improve their romantic and love communication skills, that I would safely assume to include flirting.

Recall when HIV prevention groups targeting gay men with flirting and other workshops funded by federal grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to justify such use of taxpayer money? Similar justification should come from organizations receiving federal dollars for healthy marriage promotion targeting heterosexuals and teaching ways of being better lovers and communicators. 

BTW, when George W. Bush in May 2006 allocated taxpayer money for healthy marriage initiatives through his faith-based programs in 2006, the total amount was $100,000,000, according to the White House booklet announcing grant opportunities. [Source: Bush White House document, page 11.]

One-hundred-million dollars is a heck of a lot of taxpayer dollars to spend on general marriage promotion, that may exclude gays at every level of recipient-level programs and trainings.

I've not located current figures for such initiatives, but if you have those numbers, please share them with me.

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