Marriage and the city's future


Press for the roots of such urban ills as crime, drugs or chaos in the schools and one fact is unavoidable. Too many children are being born to unwed mothers and, by almost every measure, face tougher obstacles in life than government can reasonably ameliorate.

As a result, society is paying a heavy price. However resilient a young mother may be, however determined that her child will prosper in life, the fact remains that marriage provides a better environment for rearing children than a single-parent household or, on balance, than any other non-traditional household arrangement. Given the bleak scenarios facing Baltimore, it would seem good social policy for the city to do everything possible to encourage families that are based on marriage, not to make it easier not to be married.

For that reason, we question the wisdom of the broad-based domestic partnership program now being considered at City Hall. Unlike some other cities, the Baltimore proposal would extend city benefits not just to lesbian and gay couples -- who currently have no legal means of registering a long-term, fully committed relationship -- but also to virtually any other "non-traditional" household partnership, including heterosexual couples or even perhaps single mothers who team together to share expenses.

Supporters of this broad definition of domestic partnerships argue that publicly declared love or even commitments lived out in situations where marriage would be detrimental or inappropriate deserve as much recognition as marriage. We have no quarrel with love, and we have the greatest admiration for those who care for dependent siblings or disabled friends. But making these arrangements the basis for benefits designed to bolster marriage is not the city's responsibility -- especially at a time when the costliest benefit, health insurance, is likely to be addressed in a way that would solve many of these problems anyway.

Some of the other benefits suggested in the proposal can be addressed in other ways. In our view, all employers could profit from a close review of policies governing bereavement leaves and other emergency situations to determine when more flexibility would be appropriate. But that can be done without a domestic partnership program.

There are sound reasons to consider legally recognized domestic partnerships for homosexual couples, many of whom exhibit strong commitments to each other and who make a significant contribution to the community. But heterosexuals already have a way of demonstrating a commitment, and it's called a marriage license. More Baltimore children need a family that is built on one.

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