TOPEKA — A group sharing marriage program ideas with Gov. Sam Brownback and state health officials includes one person who has said polygamy is more in line with core values than same-sex marriage.
Besides David Blankenhorn, the founder of the Institute for American Values in New York, another of the 20 people who offered advice at an April meeting was consultant Maggie Gallagher. She has said Christians had to be the "visible light" for people failing to grasp intricacies of the institution.
Brownback urged people invited to the gathering to think in terms of "Hail Mary" approaches to boosting marriage rates and slashing divorce rates in Kansas.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that content of the discussions remains confidential. But a Kansas Open Records Act request revealed names of the players and showed the session cost taxpayers $13,000.
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Other participants included Marriage Savers creator Mike McManus, who has said clergy members typically did a lousy job preparing couples for marriage and secular therapists were more likely to increase divorce among spouses in crisis.
McManus said clergy members in each Kansas county should sign and enforce a "community marriage policy" to prohibit church weddings unless the couple completed a 200-item, premarital inventory and met several times with a mentor couple trained by the church.
McManus said in a follow-up letter to Brownback that Kansas should prohibit no-fault divorce unless there was proof of physical abuse or adultery. A state law ought to be passed, he said, allowing judges to select a "responsible spouse," which would always be the person opposed to divorce. The law would allow the responsible adult to receive up to 66 percent of child visitation and 100 percent of family assets in the divorce.
Brownback's effort has received some criticism.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, who voted against confirmation of Brownback's choice of secretary for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, said he was intrigued by the governor's simultaneous talk about removing government from the lives of the average Kansan and creating a state marriage program filled with faith-based advocacy.
"I learned a long time ago, actually in Sunday school, you should have a separation of church and state," Hensley said. "These kinds of measures are overreaching into personal relationships."
Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Robert Siedlecki, who is responsible for implementing the governor's marriage initiative, said thousands of Kansas residents who divorce each year lacked the skills and knowledge to form sustainable relationships. He said divided families are costly to government and harmful to children.
"We are really starting from ground zero," Siedlecki said. "The governor wants us to create a national model."