California Bill Would Disincentivize Marriage

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Randy Thomasson says SB 1066 rewards unwed parents for not getting married

Sacramento, California ““ A bill ensuring that unwed parents remain unmarried is receiving strong opposition from a leading California-based pro-family organization.

SB 1066 by state Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) would allow cohabitating men and women to receive every marriage right and all marriage benefits that married husbands and wives receive under California law. Under SB 1066, more than 300 spousal rights ““ meant to bond together a husband and wife in the law ““ would go to unmarried couples. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 11, Democrats for, Republicans against. Last year, the same bill failed to pass the Legislature.

“SB 1066 rewards unwed parents for not getting married,” said Campaign for Children and Families (CCF) President Randy Thomasson, who did TV interviews this week on the issue. “This foolish bill promotes cohabitation just as government welfare programs subsidized illegitimacy. SB 1066 ensures that unwed parents remain uncommitted. Why get married if you can get the legal rights and benefits of marriage without saying “˜I do?’ And what about the kids, who research shows do much worse in unmarried environments? SB 1066 is bad public policy. It’s blind to the evidence that marriage is 1000 percent more stable than shacking up.”

SB 1066 is in stark contrast to the federal program promoting marriage in California. The California Healthy Marriages Coalition (CHMC) is spending $11.9 million on a statewide public information campaign, which includes media ads, local seminars for pastors and community leaders, and marriage education classes. CHMC says it “expects to see a decline in the marriage/divorce ratio, a reduction in child abuse, domestic violence, poverty, criminal behavior, and an improvement in physical, emotional, and mental health.”

Campaign for Children and Families is urging Californians to call their state senator, state assemblymember, and Gov. Schwarzenegger to urge SB 1066’s defeat. “If unmarried couples want stability and security, they should get married,” said Thomasson, “and the legal rights of marriage will accompany their good decision. The evidence shows that marriage is much more healthy, secure, and long-lasting than is shacking up for men, women, and the children they often produce.”

Contrary to what many people think, “living together” before marriage actually decreases a couple’s chances of staying together if they marry. Respected cultural scholar and UCLA Professor Emeritus James Q. Wilson explains, “But cohabitation is a two-way street. It may attract people with certain views, but it also changes the view of people who do cohabit. Living together without getting married makes people more willing to accept divorce. As two scholars put it, “˜cohabitation may change the way individuals view marriage and divorce’ by, for example, persuading them that “˜intimate relationships are fragile and temporary in today’s world'” (James Q. Wilson, “Why Not Just Live Together?,” American Experiment Quarterly, Summer 2001).

“Is cohabiting a good way to prepare for marriage?” asked researchers David Olson and Amy Olson-Sigg. “Generally not. The social science evidence suggests that living together is not a good way to prepare for marriage or to avoid divorce. In fact, virtually all the major studies have shown a higher divorce rate among couples that cohabited before marriage than those who did not. No positive contribution of cohabitation to a successful marriage has been found to date.” (Olson and Olson-Sigg, “Overview of Cohabitation Research,” 2006, www.prepare-enrich.com/research.html).

What The Evidence Says: Cohabitation versus Marriage

Short-lived relationships: About half of cohabitating couples either marry or break up after two years of cohabitation (Sheela Kennedy and Larry Bumpass, “Cohabitation and Children’s Living Arrangements: New Estimates from the United States,” 2007, Center for Demography, University of Wisconsin). One half of all cohabitating unions end within a year and 90 percent within five years. “The common view of cohabitation as a steppingstone to marriage needs to be serious questioned,” said Daniel Lichter, professor of policy analysis and management and director of the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center at Cornell. “Instead, serial cohabitation may be an emerging norm as cohabitating unions form and break up” (UPI, “Study: Cohabiting not prelude to marriage,” July 10, 2006). “Cohabitors and married people who cohabited before marriage have higher risks of union dissolution than people who married without prior cohabitation (“Unmarried Cohabitation and Union Stability,” Demography, 2006, Vol. 43, No. 2, pp. 203-221). In contrast, 57.7 percent of married relationships last 20 years or longer (U.S. Census, “Number, Timing, and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 1996,” February 2002).

Less safety: Cohabitating couples experience physical aggression in their relationships at rates three times higher than those reported by married couples. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “unmarried, cohabiting couples have higher rates of intimate partner violence than do married couples” (DOJ, “Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence,” July 2000).

More child abuse: As already shown, children of cohabitating couples are highly likely to see their parents separate within one to two years. Reaffirming what law enforcement sees everyday, research found children in single-parent families had a 77 percent greater risk of harm by physical abuse and an 87 percent greater risk of harm due to physical neglect (Sedlak and Broadhurst, Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996).

Less faithfulness: “Cohabitors are less likely than spouses to view their sexual union as permanently exclusive”¦cohabitors are less faithful to their partners than are married couples, and even when sexually faithful, they are less committed to the idea of sexual fidelity. Even if they are currently monogamous, many cohabitors say they are unwilling to say their partner will be the only person they ever sleep with for the rest of their lives” (The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially, 2000, pg. 39).

Less happiness: “According to the latest data, 40 percent of the married said they are very happy with their life in general, compared to just under a quarter of those who were single or who were cohabitating. The separated (15 percent very happy) and the divorced (18 percent very happy) were the least happy groups. The widowed were, perhaps surprisingly, just about as likely to say they are very happy as singles or as cohabitors ““ 22 percent” (The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially, 2000, pg. 67).

CAMPAIGN FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES (CCF) is a leading West Coast nonprofit, nonpartisan organization representing children and families. CCF stands for marriage and family, parental rights, the sanctity of human life, religious freedom, and back-to-basics education.

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