Teaneck, NJ — On a breezy day in this New Jersey suburb, a celebrity rabbi running for Congress and a celebrity father of eight joined forces to speak out on an issue about which they feel strongly, but which you probably have not given much thought to: tax-deductible marriage counseling.
“My friends, we are here today because America right now is leading a lie,” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach told a small crowd standing in the shade outside Bergen Marriage Counseling & Psychotherapy. Instead of discussing the country’s high divorce rate, and ways to fix it, Boteach said, the debate about marriage has been distracted by same-sex marriage, cultural divides, and “artificial boogie men.”
“Gay marriage at most will affect seven percent of the American population — at most,” he said, his insistant voice rising. “Divorce affects 50 percent of the heterosexual population.”
The divorce issue, Boteach argued, should be “front and center in the national discussion.”
Boteach, who calls himself “America’s Rabbi” and is the Republican nominee for Congress in New Jersey’s 9th District, has made tax deductible marriage counseling a “central plank” of his underdog campaign, one of only three issues listed on his campaign website, along with education vouchers and “promoting freedom and democracy and bolstering American leadership to protect human rights worldwide.” The rabbi, who has written bestselling books like “Kosher Sex” and was at one point a kind of spiritual adviser to Michael Jackson, believes that counseling can save marriages, and Americans shouldn’t have to worry about the costs.
“Give [couples] the incentive to keep their families together,” he said. “I find it astonishing that this nation will make charitable donations tax deductible but not marital counseling. Charity begins at home.”
To help deliver the message, Boteach had invited Jon Gosselin, former star of the TLC reality show “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” to speak out with him on the issue. The two men noted that they have many similarities: they are both the children of divorced parents, they both now have many children (Boteach has nine), they both had shows on TLC. Gosselin’s marriage famously fell apart three years ago (Boteach denounced how millions of people had been “entertained” by the Gosselin’s divorce), and Boteach has since served as an adviser to Gosselin. Gosselin had decided to support Boteach on the counseling issue, perhaps as a result of the $30,000 in marital counseling bills he said he racked up as his marriage dissolved.
“Marriage counseling — it didn’t work for me,” Gosselin said, when it was his turn at the podium. “I still have the bill. I support [Boteach’s] initiative. But even though it didn’t work for me, I believe in it, or I would have never come. And I believe in him.”
TPM asked Boteach why he thought a congressional campaign was a place to advance the counseling issue. Boteach said he believes the issue needs to be a federal policy, and, if anything, more candidates should make it part of their campaigns.
“You ask me, why is this part of a congressional campaign? Let me turn that question around: Why am I the only guy talking about this? Where is everyone else?” he said.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com