Last week, State Representative Gary Click (R) of District 88 introduced House Bill 173, which would reestablish the Ohio Family Stability Commission. Click and Gail Pavliga (R) are the bill’s primary sponsors, and among the cosponsors is Riordan McClain (R) of District 87.
The bill’s first hearing by the Committee for Family, Aging, and Human Services was on March 18, and it is currently under consideration.
The commission would be established within the Department of Job and Family Services in order to evaluate state family stability and recommend legislation to address stability issues. It was previously established in 2015, but never fully operated due to a lack of appointees. Because of this, Click and Pavliga revamped the structural guidelines for the commission’s formation.
The commission would include representatives from both the State House and the State Senate. Three would be appointed by the President of the Senate, three by the Speaker of the House and three to five by the Governor.
The bill specifies that at least one of each of the leaders’ three appointees must be from a different political party than the leaders. Under the current Republican legislature, that means that the Speaker and Senate President would each have to select at least one Democrat in an effort to promote bipartisanship.
Originally, the commission was introduced by Senator Charleta Tavares, a Democrat. However, the issues the new bill includes, and that the commission would address, are largely Republican focal points dealing with family values. For instance, the commission would be tasked to recommend solutions for all of the following:
- Reducing the state divorce rate
- Reducing the number of conceptions, abortions and births outside of marriage
- Societal issues that discourage or prevent couples from engaging in marriage
- Reducing domestic violence, substance abuse and child abuse
- Child custody and child support
“The strength of a society is directly proportional to the strength of our families,” Click said. “Oftentimes, we establish well-intended rules, regulations and laws that have unintended consequences of incentivizing unstable families.”
In terms of marriage and divorce rates, Ohio’s are typically in line with the national average. The marriage rate increased slightly from 2009 to 2019, and the divorce rate decreased significantly. In the U.S. as a whole, the marriage rate actually fell from 2009 to 2019.
The bill implies that high marriage rates and abstinence are essential to a functional society. However, there are some experts such as W. Bradford Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, who claim there’s no clear evidence that legally or religiously-formalized marriages are associated with better outcomes than long-term cohabitation.
Additionally, there’s the issue of the marriage gap: the observed economic and political disparities between married and single people in the United States.
“The challenge facing the U.S. is bridging the gap between the nearly universal aspiration to marry and the growing inability of poor and working-class Americans to access marriage,” Wilcox said.
It isn’t just a socioeconomic divide — it’s political. Among unmarried adults, 38% identified as Democrats — twice as many as Republicans. The most striking difference was between single and married women. Because of this, questions may be raised as to who the commission would target.
According to the Pew Research Center, younger millennials and even older Gen Z adults are prioritizing marriage less. Half of all American adults believe society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children, but for people ages 18-29, two-thirds believe that statement.
The bill itself doesn't specify any of the legislation or recommendations that the commission would make. Click said the only intention was to get the commission up and running; the changes they made to the original legislation were "not philosophical."
"I cannot be presumptive about any conclusions the commission will arrive at," Click said. "I cannot even assume that I will be on the commission. The primary purpose is to remove roadblocks and implement policy to facilitate stable families in Ohio."