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Wuv. Mawwiage. Ooh, govunuh wikes wuv and mawwiage. On Monday, Nov. 22, the Governor’s Council on Families presented four awards: “Outstanding Family,” “Growing and Lasting Marriage” and two for “Family Strengthening Programs, Churches and Organizations.” The Governor’s Council on Families is funded by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services at less than $10,000 annually (winners get plaques), says council staffer Jon Berg, so at least all this rah-rah isn’t costing us (much). And as a moral-values-voting red state (with a divorce rate more than twice that of Godless Massachussetts), apparently we could use the encouragement.

For “Outstanding Family,” we have Helena’s Gabriel and Margaret Brennan and their five children. They do quite a bit of volunteering. “As a family, they go around and do musical entertainment in the rest homes,” says Berg. Then, there’s Frank and Mardella Coil, who have been married 58 years. They received the “Growing and Lasting Marriage” award. Award-winning marriages “more than simply endure, they thrive,” says Berg. The Coils, too, have many children, says Berg, though he doesn’t have an exact count. To be named among the council’s chosen, must a family be of Mormon proportions? Is the state encouraging large families? Berg says that isn’t the case: “That just happens to be the two that were selected.” (It’s probably a good thing that large families aren’t encouraged—next thing you know, you have to educate the little brats, and goodness knows we don’t want to pay for that.)

The criteria for the “Outstanding Family” award includes family closeness, stability and sacrifices made in the nurturing and training of children. Creating traditions and serving a church or neighbors counts, too. Oh, and your family—at least the two main characters—have to be straight and officially married. If you’re in a close, stable and gay relationship, you can nurture your children and volunteer in your church ’til Jesus comes home and you’re not going to qualify. Why? “Because it’s not supported by our society right now…” explains Berg. Glad to see state officials leading the way.

Berg explains that marriage strengthens society, citing survey results showing that married people are emotionally and physically healthier. (Then again, research also shows that people who live near siblings and/or with pets live longer, healthier lives, too—just don’t go marrying sis and/or, God forbid, Fido.) For those whose marriages are barely enduring, help is on the way: The 16-member governor’s council also recognized two organizations that offer marriage counseling. Retrouvaille is one such, a Catholic program that, according to its website, is recommended for married couples only, not for those “who have chosen to ‘live together.’” Another award-winning organization, Complete Marriages, is run by a former chairman of the Governor’s Council on Families. It, too, has a religious flavor, describing its work, in part, as “marriage ministry.”

Granting awards to organizations that provide religious outreach does not diminish the separation between church and state, believes Berg. Rather, he says, the government supports marriage because it makes society stronger. And just in time for the holidays, when we could all use a little strength.

The Indy wishes a happy Thanksgiving to all families, state-sanctioned or otherwise.

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