Newark Mayor Cory Booker is a rising star in the Democratic Party. He is likely to be elected to the U.S. Senate and he is being talked up as a potential Presidential candidate down the road.
A major problem in Booker's future political career is cracking a glass ceiling. Not the ceiling of race, but the fact that he is a single male age 44 who has never married and doesn't have children.
In a Washington Post interview this week, Booker declined to specify whether he was gay, noting that his pastor had urged him to get married.
This will be the elephant in the room in his future political races. He will probably win the New Jersey Senate in a landslide. But there is no doubt that the GOP, the so-called party of "family values," will try to exploit this issue if he runs for president in the future. His opponent will emphasize the contrast between their own family life with ads featuring their spouse, children, and grandchildren and Booker's single life without kids.
The only single U.S. president was James Buchanan. Grover Cleveland married while he was in office, and Chester Arthur's wife died before he became President. Jefferson, Van Buren, and Andrew Jackson were widowed when elected.
Being single, never married, and without children should not be a factor as to whether someone is qualified to be president.
Unfortunately, being single is still viewed as a stigma in society. The expectation is that people should get married and have children in order to have a complete life.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2012, there are approximately 112 million unmarried people over age 18 in the United States, which comprises around 47% of the adult population. There are many successful single people in the world, alive and dead, including Jesus, Mother Teresa, Pope Francis, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Maher, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Wilt Chamberlain, Sheryl Crow, Diane Keaton, Andrew Cuomo, Ralph Nader, Condoleezza Rice, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Although around 50 percent of Americans are single, they don't have much of a say in political matters. There's no well-known major advocacy organization to advance the rights of single people, such as the NAACP, AIPAC, NRA, or AARP. There's a group called Alternatives to Marriage Project (AtMP), which is a nonprofit organization that attempts to combat marital status discrimination, but not many people are aware of it.
Many laws discriminate against single people regarding to taxes, insurance, and housing, Social Security, and IRAs, as noted by Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell in their Jan. 14, 2013 article in The Atlantic. According to Bella DePaulo's article in her April 30, 2012 Living Single column in Psychology Today, there are over 1,100 federal laws that benefit and protect only married people.
While there are many reasons why people should get married and have children, there are also many reasons why someone would want to stay single and not have kids. In some cases, it's as simple as not having met your soulmate, the person that you would want to spend the rest of your life with. It's better to stay single and be happy, rather than marry someone you can't stand being with. Other reasons include career choices, being too busy to date, financial reasons, being hurt in past relationships, seeing one's parents' bitter divorce, fear of commitment and emotional attachment, the ability to take risks and make significant life changes such as where you live, the opportunity to travel extensively, and a desire to remain independent.
As Ashley Womble noted in her article in Cosmopolitan Magazine, "When you aren't part of a duo, it's much easier to find time to pursue your interests, like training for a marathon or writing a screenplay."
In discussing Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court as a single, childless woman, Deborah Rhode, director of the Center on the Legal Profession at Stanford Law School, told Laura Holson of the New York Times, "I resist the notion that the only way to be happy in the world is you have to be married. We want a world where people can make a variety of choice and be happy."
Despite what Harry Nilsson wrote and Three Dog Night sang, one doesn't have to be the loneliest number.
Cory Booker shouldn't feel pressure to get married and kids in order to be a viable Presidential candidate. His choice to remain single is a valid lifestyle choice that shouldn't be a factor as to whether he would be an effective leader. Voters would realize that it's better to have a single President who is charismatic, competent, and has the best policies, rather than a family man whose policies would be disastrous for the country. Having Booker run and get elected President as a single person would help a great deal in ending the stigma that single people face.
Note: This article is an expanded version of an article that Larry Atkins wrote for the Newark Star Ledger.
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