Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Why get married?

When the Commission for Social Justice, the highly praiseworthy organisation set up by the Catholic MP Iain Duncan Smith as soon as he had been released from the shackles of being the leader of the Conservative Party, announced last week that according to its researches, “family breakdown” was a big problem, it was quite hard not to think, “Mmm, yes, we had noticed, actually.”

But to do the CSJ’s Family Breakdown Group justice, they made a much more forceful point than most politicians have been prepared to do for many years.

Thanks to the twin political monsters of fear of discrimination (on the Left) and a fervent belief in libertarianism (on the Right) politicians of all colours have had a habit of regarding the break-up of relationships as a personal matter in which the Government has no business making judgements.

The worst thing you can do is to “stigmatise” someone (interesting religious analogy, that) – especially a poor single mother. Following on from that it has been standard practice, in issues of public policy, to lump together all single parents as being equally vulnerable and deserving of special pity: from the vulnerable teenage mum whose baby gives her the total love she has never known from anyone else, all the way to the face-lifted trophy wife suing her husband for £5 million after kicking him out to make room for her personal trainer.

And following on from that, the problem of couples not sticking together tends to be regarded as just one of those things in society that we have to get used to.

No, says the CSJ. We do NOT have to get used to it. Even more, we have to stop it happening. “Public policy goals, such as the elimination of child poverty and improvement in educational standards, are being undermined by what has happened to the two-parent family.”

So instead of treating the fact of family breakdown as an unfortunate side-show and child poverty as the main event, a Government should regard family breakdown as the main problem to be tackled. This is a refreshing departure from the sticking-plaster attitude of most public policy on social issues; let’s hope that the Tories and other parties take notice of it.

The CSJ makes the important observation, that divorce is no longer what splits families – because there are fewer people getting married in the first place.

Couples who never marry are five times more likely to split up than married couples, and couples rarely stay unmarried and together for over ten years – they generally either split up, or decide that after ten years they finally know each other to take the great leap of marriage.

I have the impression that a great deal of Church energy has been directed over the years at the issue of divorce and remarriage as regards the gravity of the sacrament. But I wonder if this long debate has been at the expense of getting another, more urgent message across: the reasons why couples should get married in the first place.

Once upon a time it was too obvious to mention. But time has worn away the obvious reasons so that they are not immediately apparent to children, or even to people in their twenties and thirties.

There is an entire industry besieging young people with advice on marriage; books, magazines, websites, entire consultation services of every possible type. But nobody ever seems to bother to spell out to them why they should get married. Nearly all “relationships advice” has to tiptoe round the fact that marriage is better for everyone – men, women and – especially - children.

Much damage has been done by our accursed addiction to embarrassment: The term “partner” has more or less replaced “spouse” not for reasons of accuracy, but because we are afraid to assume a couple are married when they are not.

It is a mystery to me why we don’t work a little harder to explain to the wider public why marriage works. Standing up in public announcing an intention to stick together is still the best method ever devised of cementing a couple. The Church’s answer to the glib “why should we get married?” should always be – “But why not?”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes! You might be right to some extent but I guess marrying in the church is not an assurance in cementing couples....