The Life and Career of Matt Daniels, President of NGO - The Alliance of Marriage
by Regan Morris
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Attorney and policy scholar Matt Daniels has been studying marriage and social policy for over a decade. Eight years ago he formed the Alliance for Marriage, a nonprofit group devoted to helping children grow up in two-parent homes - with a mother and a father. It is his work on this issue that recently thrust him into the national spotlight as the man who wrote the proposed amendment to the Constitution to ban gay marriage.
Daniels' interest in the law has always focused on social policy, and while attending law school he simultaneously earned a master's degree in public policy.
''Law school can be an incredibly myopic experience,'' he told LawCrossing. ''I grew so frustrated with the narrow focus of the courses in law school, on social policy, which was what I cared about, that I began a master's program in public policy as well. I had one semester where I had nine graduate courses. It was insane.''
Daniels believes lawyers and judges have too much power and that many Americans are frustrated that major issues are decided by the courts and not at the ballot boxes. He blasts the ''legal elite'' for judicial policy making on gay marriage and dozens of other social issues and believes the courts should be studied as political institutions and not through the lens of case law.
''You can only understand the behavior of the courts on social policy questions if you study the courts as political institutions,'' he says.
Daniels, 40, grew up in Spanish Harlem with a single mom after his father abandoned them when he was just two. His mother was violently mugged coming home from her job as a secretary one night, suffered a broken back, and was unable to work. Daniels grew up in a dangerous neighborhood with a disabled mother on welfare. He attended public schools, and then a scholarship to Dartmouth was his ticket out. He said the experience at the university was ''a huge culture shock, but a good one.'' After finishing his English degree at Dartmouth, he returned to New York City and volunteered with various homeless organizations. ''That's when I really began to think seriously and deeply about social policy,'' he said. He wanted to get to the root causes of how people end up living on the streets. He noticed few Asians or Latinos were homeless, and he believes that is because they have more intact homes - with a father present. The homeless people he met had varied experiences, but an overwhelming number of them grew up like he did - without a father.
Interestingly, Daniels considers the cause to ban gay marriage to be a civil rights issue - as do people fighting on the opposite side of the issue. Daniels equates his quest for a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage to the civil rights movement for African Americans and women. He stresses that the Alliance's mission is not about excluding gays and lesbians, but about promoting intact families.
''There is an ocean of social science data spanning several decades which strongly indicates that kids do best with a mother and a father and that, in fact, that combination has everything to do with successful outcomes for kids,'' Daniels says.
Daniels says he was not disappointed that the Federal Marriage Amendment was stalled in the U.S. Senate last month.
''It's the world series of American politics, so we were busy,'' Daniels said. ''There were two goals that we had going into the Senate vote, both of which were achieved. One was to get people of both parties on the record before the election, and two was to raise public awareness about the threat to the status of marriage emanating from the courts.''
Various state courts have been grappling with the issue of gay marriage.
Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in May. State constitutional amendments to prohibit same-sex marriages are expected to be voted on soon in Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oregon, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, and Utah.
''I compare it to the civil rights movement,'' Daniels says of his mission. ''They had to repeatedly try to get the Civil Rights Act through Congress. They were filibustered in the Senate, they were blocked, they were thwarted, but ultimately they prevailed because their cause was fundamentally based on a social truth.''
Daniels believes the majority of Americans support his stance and he stresses that the Alliance for Marriage attracts a broad, bipartisan spectrum of supporters.
''Our marriage laws reflect a social policy judgment widely shared by Americans of different races, colors, and creeds: that kids do best with a mom and a dad. We as a society ought to seek to encourage that. Our marriage laws were not created out of an animus or hatred towards gays and lesbians - there is no historical record whatsoever, even in the slightest way, that would suggest that the marriage laws of the 50 states have any basis in animus towards gays and lesbians.''
The Alliance for Marriage does not believe a Constitutional amendment alone would create a culture of intact families, but Daniels believes it is a necessary step.
''We believe that our marriage laws - defining marriage as between a man and a woman - are a necessary condition for the renewal of a marriage-based culture,'' he says.
Daniels says the Alliance was founded with major leaders of the African American community - including Walter Fauntroy - and that ''it is outrageous to claim that any of these people are motivated by hatred or bigotry in standing up because they believe that there is something uniquely beneficial for children and society when the two halves of the human race come together to parent.''
The group is committed to welfare reform, which Daniels says penalizes people who get married, to reduce social problems.
Daniels believes that questions of social policy should be decided by democratic elections and not through the litigation model, because elections typically result in compromise, whereas litigation is ''winner takes all.''
''The litigation model is toxic to democratic values and culture,'' he says. ''We all are concerned that not enough Americans vote. But if all the great social policy questions of the day are for resolution by unelected judges and a handful of lawyers bringing lawsuits, then why should anyone vote?
''What is this? Government by lawyers? We're supposed to govern ourselves! I don't want to be governed by a bunch of lawyers! Hey, the courts have their place. They have a hugely important role to play. But the problem is in law school, they teach a philosophy of court worship - and frankly it's a very self-serving philosophy. You have the legal class, the legal elite, teaching itself that all the great questions of the day should be decided by them. That's wrong!''
Daniels urges his liberal friends to reject judicial policy making, because although recent decisions have leaned toward the left, historically he says the courts have swayed to the right.
''Look at the New Deal and what the courts tried to do to it. Look at how the courts engaged systematically in union busting during the days when the labor movement was being born and courts were rigidly pro-business,'' he says. ''We've already seen the Rehnquist court engage in conservative judicial policy making on a couple of issues, and it scared liberals. Hey, that's a foretaste! If you embrace that proposition that we should jettison democratic policy making basically in favor of judicial policy making, then don't complain when 15 years from now, you see all sorts of things being forced on you by courts that decided that, because the culture has changed in the academy, [you must] embrace conservative goals.''
Daniels does not want to abolish the Supreme Court. But he wants the courts to focus less on matters of social policy.
''If the courts are supposed to decide the future of marriage, what can't they decide? The answer is nothing.''