Bush's 'Healthy Marriage' initiative could lead to RFP

WASHINGTON: The Bush Administration may soon be on the hunt for a PR firm to lead a controversial campaign educating the American public about the skills required to sustain a marriage.

WASHINGTON: The Bush Administration may soon be on the hunt for a PR firm to lead a controversial campaign educating the American public about the skills required to sustain a marriage.

Such a campaign, which has been blasted by gay-rights advocates, lies at the heart of a $1.5 billion proposal now before Congress. The "Healthy Marriage" initiative, already approved by the House, proposes a massive increase in funding for federally run programs, particularly in low-income communities, offering classes in conflict resolution, communication, and other skills the administration feels are essential to maintaining lifelong partnerships.

Dr. Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said last week that if the initiative, part of a welfare reauthorization bill, becomes law, an RFP will "absolutely" be issued seeking private-sector PR leadership for an associated public awareness campaign.

The effort, as he describes it, would carry two central messages: successful marriages require skills, not luck; and there are classes available to help people acquire those skills.

"I don't think we need to say 'marriage is good,' because most Americans already [think] that," said Horn, "and not just middle-class or affluent Americans, but poorer couples as well."

"What we need to say is that healthy marriages are attainable not just through luck, but with skills, and then to make sure that the services are actually available in those [poorer] communities," he said.

Horn described an integrated campaign focusing heavily on media relations and community involvement, but declined to predict a budget for what would likely be an extensive, long-term undertaking.

"Clearly you don't need $1.5 billion for a public education campaign," he said.

The initiative may be promoted by the President during Tuesday's State of the Union address, according to a recent New York Times report. It has drawn fire from a number of liberal activist groups, many of whom see it as a response to 2003 court rulings advancing gay rights, particularly gay marriage. Indeed, the programs being promoted would not be available to same-sex couples under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

"We think it's ironic that while the President is launching this $1.5 billion marriage promotion initiative, his administration is also considering a constitutional amendment that would permanently deny the rights, protections, and stability of marriage to millions of same-sex couples who want to enter into it," said Mark Shields, Human Rights Campaign spokesman.

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