SALT LAKE CITY — A bill establishing a Utah Marriage Commission in state law was approved Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee despite concerns raised by one representative about government involvement in the institution.
HB147, sponsored by Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, said the legislation is needed because the state's existing commission was created informally 15 years ago and does not have a reliable source of funding.
"It's now time to put it in Utah code," Christensen said, adding marriage must be protected as a "sacred institution so fundamental to the health and well-being and perpetuity of society and all we represent and all we hold dear."
The commission sponsors classes and events throughout the state, including a dating course called, "How to Avoid Falling for a Jerk or a Jerk-ette," and a number of online marriage classes.
But Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, said he could not "in good conscience" support the bill, even though he also believes in the importance of marriage to society. He cast the only vote against the bill, which now goes to the House.
"In my opinion, government is already too involved in marriage," Greene said. "We as conservatives raise the concern that government is getting into areas that are too personal. … I don't see how this bill differs."
Christensen said the government already plays a key role by sanctioning marriage and should also take an interest in the success of the union.
"The government should do more than just create marriages and abandon ship," he said.
Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, spoke on behalf of the bill, telling the committee that the "family is absolutely the best setting" to promote good citizenship of both adults and children.
"It's in the interest for those who stand for good government to stand for good families," Nielson said, calling it "foolish" not to acknowledge the connection.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, also backed the bill.
"There is a positive role for government to play," King said. "I think sometimes we talk about government as if it's a negative, pejorative term. It's not. It's 'we the people.'"
The current commission chairman, Paul Schvaneveldt, told the committee that "the breakdown of marriage creates tremendous pressure on government" to get more involved with families and that providing them with resources can lessen government intrusion.
Schvaneveldt, chairman of the Weber State University Department of Child and Family Studies, said the commission "does not force or advocate for people to stay in unhealthy or abusive relationships."
Alan Hawkins, a BYU family life professor, testified that the number of two-parent families increased 6 percent in the state between 2005 and 2010, while the number of single-parent families dropped 3 percent.
Hawkins credited the commission, initially created in 1998 by former Gov. Mike Leavitt, for those changes.
"Ultimately, we want to move the needle in terms of the number of children in Utah who grow up in healthy, two-parent families," he said, describing Utah as doing more to help marriages than any other state except Oklahoma.
Christensen said the commission would require only modest funding from the state. The bill has a fiscal note of $8,800, mostly to cover the cost of four annual meetings, as well as staffing.
Recently, the Department of Workforce Services determined it would no longer use some $700,000 from a federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families grant to support the commission's activities.
There had been plans to move the commission to Utah State University, which already hosts the commission's strongermarriage.org website.
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