State Policies to Promote Marriage. I. Youth Education and Development


While many of the state-level marriage policies focus on activities that aim to prepare adults for marriage or prevent divorce, states are also targeting the marriage message to youth. Two such areas are school-based marriage education and abstinence-until-marriage education. Twenty-seven states had policies in these areas. This is likely an understatement of the level of activity because our focus is on statewide policies. Much of the policymaking in the area of education occurs at the local school district level. Thus, it is likely that many marriage and abstinence initiatives were not captured in this study.(68) (Table 11 in the detailed matrices provides additional information on state policies.)

School-based marriage education. We found nine states that addressed statewide school-based marriage education. Five have enacted some type of policy or program.(69) Florida passed a law that requires marriage education in high school. New Hampshire is piloting a program that may be adopted statewide called The Loving Well Project, which is a character education course with a section focusing on marriage. South Carolina used The Loving Well curriculum statewide for five years but no longer does so. A large number of schools in Pennsylvania adopted an ABA initiative — The Partners Project: A Curriculum for Preserving Marriages — which is designed to give high school students a first-hand understanding of the challenges of marriage, including relationship skills. South Dakota subsidized the Connections curriculum, which targets high school students and focuses on marriage and relationship communications skills.

Wisconsin has a bill pending that would require instruction in marriage be incorporated into any public school curriculum that teaches human sexuality. Initiatives in three other states failed. Arizona proposed distributing funds to public schools for marriage and parenting classes. Utah proposed adding a marriage component to civics classes but was unable to get funding. New Mexico’s bill called for the development of a high school curriculum teaching the value and benefits of marriage.

Abstinence-until-marriage education. Abstinence-until-marriage education was more common. Twenty states emphasize abstinence until marriage in schools, other programs that target youth, or media campaigns directed at youth.(70)

In two states (North Carolina and South Carolina), abstinence-until-marriage education is part of the state’s policy on sex education. Again, this reflects what is publicly available on state-level policies. Local districts likely have implemented abstinence-until-marriage programs of their own. In addition, Nebraska awards funds, curricula and technical assistance to assist the six communities with the highest teen birth rates to develop strategies to promote abstinence until marriage.

Fourteen states also emphasize abstinence until marriage in their Section 510 programs.(71) Again, this likely understates the level of abstinence-until-marriage education for a number of reasons. For one, Section 510 of Title V, enacted as part of the 1996 welfare reform law, has an eight-point definition of abstinence. Some of these definitions focus specifically on abstaining from sexual activity outside of marriage. Others are more general (e.g., health gains realized by abstaining from sex). States do not have to focus equally on all eight definitions, but they cannot violate any one definition. States that focus on the general definitions cannot teach anything that contradicts an abstinence-until-marriage message. Moreover, individual grantees or communities might have discretion over program content. State policy may not indicate an abstinence-until-marriage focus, but some local programs might strongly emphasize that definition. Thus, while all states might have some type of abstinence education program in place, the ones listed here have both a state-level directive and a focus on marriage. For example, Maryland, Massachusetts and Michigan report their programs emphasize abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-aged children. Hawaii’s program teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity. Mississippi and Tennessee fund community-based organizations that target youth and stress the benefits of remaining abstinent until marriage. Other programs, such as Oregon’s Students Today Aren’t Ready for Sex, provide youth with information and skills to help them postpone sex until marriage.

Five states(72) have undertaken media campaigns to promote abstinence until marriage. Each used federal abstinence or TANF funds. In Massachusetts, for instance, the Abstinence Education Media Campaign targets youth ages 9 to 14 with a clear message that supports abstinence outside of marriage and the benefits of waiting.

In addition to these efforts, Arizona introduced legislation that would appropriate $500,000 from the general fund to implement an abstinence-based teenage pregnancy prevention program.(73) Also, there is a teen pregnancy prevention campaign that is part of a larger marriage-skills program financed with TANF funds.