Liberals now seem to acknowledge the downsides of the retreat from marriage. A report on strengthening families that was released in January by the liberal Center for American Progress recommended not only economic assistance but also social support, such as couples’ counseling services and visits by specially trained nurses and other professionals to the parents of young children.
The growth of legal same-sex marriage has made it possible for liberals to endorse the importance of marriage without feeling that they have abandoned their commitment to equality. Same-sex couples are seizing the opportunity to marry in large numbers: According to American Community Survey data analyzed by the demographer Gary J. Gates of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, 34 percent of all same-sex couples in the Northeast in 2013 were married. Far from undermining heterosexual marriage, as its opponents warned, same-sex marriage has broadened support for marriage beyond its conservative base.
A tougher test of the truce would be whether anyone can summon broad support for providing paid parental leave. Current federal law requires large employers to offer 12 weeks of unpaid family leave, which few low-income workers can afford to take. Conservatives often say that they favor programs that encourage work, and paid family leave would most likely do that: In wealthy countries with paid leave, women are more likely to be in the work force, although they tend to work part-time more than American women do.The policy-relevance of these issues--of helping families who then more successfully raise the next generation--is obvious. And it is very hopeful, as Cherlin notes, that there is at least enough bipartisan on that point that we may be able to make some progress legislatively.