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White House Discussing Plans To Promote Low-Income Marriage

By Robert Pear and David D. Kirkpatrick

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

Administration officials say they are planning an extensive election-year initiative to promote marriage, especially among low-income couples, and they are weighing whether President Bush should promote the plan in his State of the Union speech next week.

For months, administration officials have been working with conservative groups on the proposal, which would provide at least $1.5 billion for training to help couples develop interpersonal skills that sustain “healthy marriages.”

The officials said they believed that the measure was especially timely now because they were facing pressure from conservatives eager to see the federal government defend traditional marriage, following a decision by the highest court in Massachusetts. The court ruled in November that gay couples had a right to marry under the state’s Constitution.

Several conservative Christian advocacy groups are pressing Bush to go further and use his State of the Union speech to champion a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. Leaders of these groups said they were confused by what they saw as the administration’s hedging and hesitation on such an amendment.

The proposal is the type of relatively inexpensive but politically potent initiative that appeals to White House officials at a time when they are squeezed by growing federal budget deficits.

It also plays to his desire to be viewed as a “compassionate conservative,” an image Bush sought to cultivate in his 2000 campaign. In his re-election campaign, administration officials said, Bush is likely to visit programs trying to increase marriage rates in poor neighborhoods.

Wade F. Horn, the assistant secretary of health and human services for children and families, said: “Marriage programs do work. On average, children raised by their own parents in healthy, stable married families enjoy better physical and mental health and are less likely to be poor.”