Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence said Tuesday that marriage is the best route for breaking children out of the cycle of poverty.
Pence would ask state regulators to assess how state rules and regulations affect families via "family impact statements," an idea pushed by former President Ronald Reagan and then-adviser Gary Bauer, which calls on regulators to think about whether policies promote or dissuade marriage.
Pence opposes same-sex marriage, along with Democratic candidate John Gregg, but his campaign did not respond to questions about whether he would support two men or two women rearing children together. Indiana law bars same-sex marriage, but lawmakers are set to write that ban into the state constitution in the next two years.
The Pence campaign cites research from the conservative Washington-based think tank, the Heritage Foundation, showing most children raised in two-parent parent households perform drastically better as adults. The research was based on U.S. Census statistics. Numerous other studies from both conservative and liberal researchers have reached similar conclusions.
The campaign said in its issue paper released Tuesday that the state would be the first in the nation to use marriage and "the success equation" as the basis for combating poverty. "It is widely accepted in the scholarly literature on poverty and social development that the sure-fire way for a young person to avoid poverty, or what we call 'the success equation,' is quite simple: graduate from high school, work full time or go to college, and wait until you're married before having a child."
Census figures show that the U.S. poverty rate for single parents with children in 2009 was 37.1 percent while the rate for married couples with children was 6.8 percent. Meanwhile, out-of-wedlock births have increased from about 7 percent of U.S. births to more than 40 percent since 1964.
But poverty researchers say the answer to ending the cycle of poverty is much more complicated than wedding more Hoosiers.
"We know that kids in single-parent families are at risk," said Ann Huff Stevens, director of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California-Davis. "There are two problems: We don't know how to make those families be two-parent families instead, and even if we could, it's unclear that those resulting two-parent families would look like the current two-parent families we have on the better outcome."
Stevens also said it's hard to show that a two-parent family would necessarily look like what Pence is expecting, noting that many poor, single mothers choose to stay unmarried because potential spouses have limited earning potential.
"One of the leading theories is that the men who are potential partners to these women don't have very good labor market opportunities," she said. "So adding a male to a household who doesn't have a high earning potential is not the same thing as creating these two-parent, middle income families."
The Republican congressman also said he would seek to expand Indiana's school voucher program for adopted children and foster families by eliminating means testing as a bar for them receiving vouchers. State lawmakers approved the nation's most sweeping voucher school program last year, but placed income limits on which families can qualify and set other requirements before a student can receive the voucher.
Pence talked about the ideas in an unannounced meeting in Indianapolis Tuesday and later responded to emailed questions.
"The State of Indiana can promote marriage by recognizing the importance of two-parent households and supporting the role of the family. By emphasizing the importance of intact families, Indiana can take the lead in minimizing our children's risk of growing up in poverty," Pence wrote.
Practically, he wrote, the state would begin assessing new rules and regulations impacts on families and also "bring the best minds in the country together on an annual basis to discuss the best policies for promoting the well-being of our families."
Pence has begun talking more about social issues as the governor's race enters its final weeks. Gregg criticized Pence on Tuesday for re-focusing on social issues instead of jobs.
"Why on earth are we talking about the state promoting marriage when unemployment is over 8 percent?" Gregg said in a prepared statement. "Hoosier families come in all shapes and sizes, and our next governor needs to be a governor for them all, not just those that fit in Congressman Pence's social agenda."