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Chronicle of Philanthropy Features FTF

A new class divide is emerging as marriage fades in Middle America.  But Tennessee’s First Things First believes it has an answer.

Chattanooga, Tenn. – The courthouse is a century-old grande dame of gray marble and neoclassical lines that speak to her authority over this city in the Appalachian foothills. Each day, from within the office of the county clerk, she renews driver’s licenses, issues business permits, and grants the right to hunt and fish. And each year, she unites some 2,000 couples under Tennessee law with a license to marry.

Yet in the surrounding blocks, scattered in various office buildings, lawyers toil to sever the marriage bond and return couples to the courthouse as petitioners for divorce. It is a cycle repeated daily across America: What one legal entity creates another destroys.

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