Tuesday, September 23, 2003
Taking Unmarried America's message to the Hill
A story published today by Evote.com reports that with a total of 86 million single adults across the country, Unmarried America, a non-profit organization group is making the rounds this week on Capitol Hill, urging members of Congress to take notice as they try to make single people a united political force.
Unmarried America Executive Director Tom Coleman stops by the office of Nevada Republican Jon Porter. Porter is the member from the newly created 3rd District, in a state with a booming population.
“Did you know a majority of the households in Nevada are headed by unmarried adults?” Coleman asks, making a point to the young man at the reception desk in Porter’s office. There is polite nodding to Coleman’s points. There is no hope of actually seeing the congressman, except by chance, so Coleman drops off several pieces of literature explaining what Unmarried America is.
Unmarried America is a four-year-old organization that has recently been trying to drum up membership with newspaper ads around the country, and notice on Capitol Hill. “You might have heard about us,” Coleman says having moved on to the office of Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio. “We had an ad on page two of The Hill, last week. And here is Tim Ryan’s name.”
“He got married two weeks ago,” interjects Jennifer Hoelzer, the receptionist manning the front line in Ryan’s domain.
“It doesn’t matter,” Coleman responds. “The majority of households in his district are headed by unmarried people.”
The ad in The Hill, which serves as a community newspaper for Congressional matters, lists 26 Senators and 132 Representatives who are in the category of “unmarried majority” members of Congress—that is they represent more unmarried adults than married ones. While some of the House districts are certainly the kind of place where various lifestyles choices run the gamut, staunch conservatives such as J.D Hayworth (R-AZ), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Curt Weldon (R-PA) might be surprised to find their names there.
Coleman and his organization have mined U.S. Census Bureau data extensively to make their point. Yet, when Unmarried America hosted an informational briefing on Monday, inside the Rayburn House Office building, only a dozen staffers showed up.
So Coleman is taking the case to the halls of all the congressional buildings, including the Cannon Office complex, where Tim Ryan is based.
“We thought your office especially would be interested in issues of concern to unmarried Americans,” Coleman continues, “since most households in your district are unmarried.”
He points out some issues, “like unfairness in taxation. A lot of people in your district who are single and didn’t have children and didn’t have dividends, got zero tax relief this year. Everyone else is getting rebates or getting tax relief.”
If nothing else, Coleman does seem to pique the interest of those in the reception areas, because many working those posts in Congressional offices are single, usually lowly paid. Jennifer Hoelzer relates a tale of how she had to pay for college, while a married friend was given numerous grants from federal programs benefiting those who are wedded. “Somebody said, ‘Why don’t you just marry you boyfriend?’” Hoelzer relates.
Instantly, Thomas Coleman has found another point where being single is a detriment. The rest he has well memorized: “Unmarried people are uninsured at twice the rate of married people.” “We all pay the same in Social Security and we’re kind of taught to think of it as an investment, even though it’s a tax…. If I die a month before I retire, everything I paid evaporates into the general fund…. [It cannot go to a] domestic partner, mother, father or somebody else [living in the same house].”
If possible, Coleman points out how a governor, mayor or other local leader tied to the congressional district has proclaimed this as National Unmarried and Single Americans Week. The group held a dinner in Washington Sunday night, announcing winners of awards for work benefiting unmarried Americans. Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical company, was cited for providing benefits to same-sex and opposite sex partners, along with their children. (Those benefits are taxed as income, another curse upon unmarried adults that Coleman rails against, compared to married couples.)
Also honored with awards, but not in attendance were Iowa Governor Thomas Vilsack, Maine Governor John Baldacci and Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott (Washington), along with Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon—the latter two praised for pushing legislation to end taxation of benefits that generous companies give to non-spouses living in a worker’s home.
Though in existence for four years, Coleman thinks the time is right for getting Unmarried America’s message out there. “It’s consciousness-raising; it’s public awareness; it’s education; it’s bringing some of the issues to the forefront,” he says, spending the money on the ads, “building an organization from the ground up slowly…and even to educate unmarried and single people, most of whom are not aware the extent to which they are being cheated by the government.”
Thomas Coleman is from Glendale, California. He is joined on the Washington sojourn by Nora Balderian, a Los Angeles clinical psychologist and single mother who also received an award because she volunteers her time as President of Unmarried America; and by Michael Vasquez, an activist with the organization.
Asked by EVOTE.COM if his evasiveness didn’t open the group up to being labeled by politicians as just another homosexual rights group—considering there are already a number of them with high profiles, such as the Human Rights Campaign and the disruptive Act Up—Coleman points out “all they have to do is look at our literature, look at our website and they can see that they’ll find nothing promoting same-sex marriage. About 80 percent of our members are probably heterosexual; read the issue paper, read the website and you’ll see that we are geared to be inclusive of everyone. And we want to end marital status discrimination.”
“The Democratic Party, you would think would be saying something, except they’re trying to outdo the Republicans on family. A few years ago, a strategic decision was apparently made by the Clinton people or other centrists, that ‘We’re going to say ‘working families’ every time we breathe; every time we talk we’re going to say ‘working families.’ Employers don’t hire families. They hire men and women and young people and workers.”
Just how difficult the task is was seen Tuesday when EVOTE.COM asked Sen. Tom Daschle, the highest-ranking elected Democrat in the nation, about Unmarried America’s concerns that policies are geared toward married people.
“I think it’s fair to say a lot of us feel that the values reflected in support of the family is a very important priority for all of us,” Daschle replied. “Families have specific responsibilities: rearing children, making sure education is of the caliber and consequence required to ensure that children can be adequately educated, and provided with good health care, housing. So those issues have great importance to people of both parties.”
Daschle encouraged Unmarried America to be become more of a political force if possible. “But obviously, in choosing one’s lifestyle, one has to realize that there are some who prefer a different lifestyle. Single people have every bit as much appreciation of the American values in our system; of taxation for example. I think it’s important for us to recognize that diverse lifestyle [choice] in our society today.”
Coleman realizes the Democrats can more or less get away with such answers. Singles are more likely to vote Democrat than Republican. “The Democratic party benefits greatly from the marital status gap. And yet, when you go to their website, there is nothing on it at all” for the general unmarried population.
“You [Democrats] already think that you’ve got unmarried and single people in your pocket [and] you don’t need to speak to their issues, because, where are they going to go, [to] the Republicans?”
Coleman is a statistician. He easily notes that single people were only 35 percent of the electorate in the 2000 presidential race, yet they made up 42 percent of the voting age population. And just get him started on the current crop of ten Democrats vying for the presidential nod next year.
“None of the candidates, so far, has said one word about single and unmarried people. Gays and lesbians, women, seniors, children—all of that is being talked about. But the 86 million unmarried and single Americans are invisible as far as the candidates are concerned.”
Thomas Coleman wants to remove that invisibility cloak, to create a loud, collective, single voice.