General Motors is Bankrupt. Is Your Marriage Healthy?

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They didn't have to worry about car manufacturers
California has been called a place where dreams come true. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that our state is a land where grotesque fantasies become reality without causing anyone to blink. The elected leader of California's 37 million residents is an Austrian bodybuilder who made his name impersonating robots; its politics is the best known refutation of the cherished American principles of representative government.

In this vein, the California Healthy Marriages Coalition (CHMC) is another characteristic state institution. This bizarre nonprofit, which avows the importance of marriage and partners with "faith-based" groups throughout the state to offer classes bent on preventing divorce, pulls down $2.4 million per year in grant money from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Church-state separation? Pshaw. The layperson might have some common-sense questions about the secular nature of an outfit that works hand-in-hand with religious groups and assails divorce as the root of all social ills, but no matter.

At any rate, taxpayers will be happy to know that CHMC is putting federal dollars to good use with its latest propaganda broadcast. "California Healthy Marriages Coalition Says GM Bankruptcy Could Create More than Financial Devastation for Families," reads the ominous headline of a new press release. Oooooh. What could it be? Just what sort of shadowy devastation could the bankruptcy filing of the U.S. automaker General Motors portend for families of the Golden State? Natural disaster? Mass unemployment? Swine flu?

Wrong! The answer is -- wait for it -- divorce. "Statistics show that financial strain is one of the leading causes of divorce and that divorce itself places additional strains on the economy and on business," according to CHMC. The press release sets "the taxpayer cost of family fragmentation" at $12 billion, with the sober addendum that "divorce begets many social ills, from poverty to health problems and juvenile delinquency."

Luckily, CHMC thinks it can help. The coalition directs couples to a network of local organizations offering classes. In San Francisco, appropriately enough, your best bet is the Healing Yoga Foundation on Buchanan. Weekend classes are available for just shy of $300. (Apparently, some kinds of financial strain don't contribute to divorce.) Those looking for a more conventional spiritual experience need only wander up the road to Sacramento, where a CHMC-endorsed Catholic program closes its weekend sessions with mass.

Update: CHMC Vice President of Operations Patty Howell tells us in a phone conversation that the coalition is a "secular nonprofit" and adheres strictly to church-state proprieties in the use of its federal money. She says that marriage seminars of a religious bent recommended on the CHMC Web site do not actually receive money from the organization. Howell acknowledges that some CHMC-funded courses are taught by pastors, but says the pastors must not teach "religious content" in these classes.

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