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Conservative Group Looks to Strengthen Marriage and Families in Florida

March 24, 2014 - 7:00pm

The Florida Family Policy Council (FFPC), one of the leading social and religious conservative groups in the Sunshine State, unveiled the State of Florida Cultural Indicators Report on Tuesday which shows traditional marriage and strong families help improve the economy and society.

Evidence concludes that strong marriages and families are critical to the success of both our economic and social future, said John Stemberger, the president and general counsel of the FFPC. At the most fundamental level, the institutions of marriage and family produce social order and fiscal stability in society. This human flourishing reduces the need for the governments safety net and reduces the financial burden to the state caused by the family fragmentation.

Stemberger met with the media in Tallahassee on Tuesday to highlight the 55-page report which looks at 37 social and economic statistics in the Sunshine State. The report looks at a host of issues including the decline of violent crime in Florida, HIV infection rate and the economic and social costs of family breakdowns.

The report was inspired in part by the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators (ILCI) which former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett launched at the national level in 1994.

Seeing the national conversation that developed around those cultural indicators, we have developed our own state-specific cultural indicators study. For the Florida edition, we have chosen to follow not only the typical social trends, but also several fiscal areas that have an impact on families, as well, Stemberger said. This extended focus is indicative of the desire of the Florida Family Policy Council to expand the scope of the organization to address financial issues as well as social concerns as they relate to the flourishing of Floridasfamilies.

Stemberger pointed to Florida having the ninth highest divorce rate in the nation and the dramatic increase of illegitimate children born in the Sunshine State. In 1960, only 28 percent of newborns were born out of wedlock; in 2012, 62 percent of newborns in Florida were born out of wedlock.

We can find hope in the fact that every problem measured in every metric in this publication can be reduced with one cultural change: stronger families, Stemberger insisted. All can agree that weak family units lead to social maladies that are detrimental to the bottom line for government and for business. Strong families are simply indispensable to a prosperous state. The issue of thriving families is not a Democrat vs. Republican issue. Its not a liberal vs. conservative issue. It is not even a religious vs. secular issue. It is a universal human issue which is critical for us to continue to exist as a civilization."

Citing a study from the American Enterprise Institute which shows Florida taxpayers shell out almost $2 billion due to divorces and children born out of wedlock, Stemberger also said that the FFPC study also dealt with economic issues.

Most of the public debate over marriage focuses on the role of marriage as a social, moral, or religious institution, Stemberger said. But there is a very real sense in which marriage is also an economic institution, and one which creates human and social capital. Family fragmentation as a result of divorce and unwed childbearing has significant economic implications, including expanding expenditures for state governments.

Virtually every domestic issue in public life and in culture is connected to the level of thriving in Floridas marriages and families, Stemberger insisted. While the role of government is limited in shaping culture, there is so much that legislative and government leaders can do to strengthen these institutions."

Stemberger said he hoped political leaders would use their moral leadership" to address these issues.

Our plea to officials and opinion leaders all across Florida would be to begin a dialogue about how we can strengthen the institutions of marriage and family, Stemberger said. Our hope would be that future legislative leaders would create a joint commission, a workshop, a summit, or an OPPAGA study on marriage and family to explore solutions to reducing family fragmentation and increase the thriving of marriages and families. This document is intended to start a state-wide conversation, provide a benchmark for Floridas progress in various areas and make readily available research for others to use. By looking at an array of cultural trends in statistical and chart form, elected officials, community organizers, business leaders, pastors, and other concerned citizenscan come together to chart a course for solving the problems that these numbers reveal.

Asked whether legalizing same-sex marriage in Florida would improve families in the Sunshine State, Stemberger admitted there was a conservative case for gay marriage but he rejected it, adding the study did not address the issue. Stemberger also insisted too many political leaders, including President Barack Obama, were not using the bully pulpit to provide moral leadership. Using Obama as an example, Stemberger said the president could have used his influence to insist on changes in rap music, particularly with treatment of women and glorification of violence.

Sunshine State News asked Stemberger about his plan to distribute the report. Well be hand-delivering this document to every legislator today, he replied. He also said the FFPC would send copies to every major media outlet in the state and to pastors and community leaders across Florida.

Were looking for every way possible -- private and public sector -- to strengthen marriage and families in Florida, Stemberger said, insisting marriage is the greatest poverty fighter with married couples doing better economically.

We believe some ideas are worth fighting for to the very end, Stemberger said. This is one of them.

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