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Monday, July 15, 2024
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Decline and fall – the last days of marriage

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SOMEWHERE in my distant memory I recall how about 20 years ago an agitated young man in the audience of a TV politics show asked Oona King, then the Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, when her party would get around to abolishing marriage. She appeared  surprised but explained that New Labour had no plans to abolish marriage because it was very popular with the British electorate.

That task was left therefore to the next lot of neo-Marxist revolutionaries, the coalition government of David Cameron, a decade later. Perhaps also conscious that marriage was popular, they relied on the support of Labour to push though the 2013 Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. They did so without a manifesto pledge and against the wishes of the parliamentary Conservative Party and rank-and-file members who left in droves, attracted back by the offer only of a referendum on membership of the European Union, a gamble which backfired spectacularly for Cameron and his cronies.

The Act redefined marriage to make it juridically equivalent to radically different unions so that everyone could enjoy the rights of marriage conferred by previous governments upon heterosexual couples who made a public commitment to one another before carrying out the tremendous responsibility and burdens of raising the next generation.

Same-sex unions are closed to procreation without third-party involvement and therefore are not like marriage. This issue came up during the passage of the Bill. Whereas a child is capable of understanding how a marriage between a man and a woman is consummated by the act of vaginal intercourse, the same question, when made of same-sex couples, tied even the most astute adult legal minds in knots. At what point is a marriage between two men consummated? What about two women? Many differences flow from sexual complementarity, or lack of it, besides the creation of families. There is also the creation of radically different lifestyles.

All this was brushed aside by Theresa May, then Home Secretary, who declared to the Daily Telegraph that the change in the law would mean ‘homosexuals will be missionaries to the wider society and make it [marriage] “stronger”.’

The only robust sociological evidence presented to the House of Commons predicted the opposite, however. A 22-page paper submitted to MPs by Dr Patricia Morgan, a distinguished sociologist and author, warned that the redefinition of marriage would undermine the institution by reinforcing the idea that marriage is irrelevant to parenthood. It contained a detailed analysis of trends in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Belgium, Canada and some US states where same-sex marriage had been already legalised, and it showed how traditional marriage in such jurisdictions was in freefall.

Spain in particular saw a ‘precipitous’ fall in the numbers of all marriages by 15,000 a year in first three years that followed the legalisation of same-sex marriage by the Socialist government in 2005, the decline doubling to 34,000 fewer marriages per annum in the years that followed. This, the only hard evidence brought to the debate, was ignored and rejected.

Yet as surely as night follows day the same thing happened in the UK. Following the pandemic of 2020, the number of marriages in England and Wales collapsed by 61 per cent. It was the sharpest fall in any country in Europe so covid was not solely to blame. Other factors were fuelling the phenomenon. They may be manifold, but what is beyond doubt is that gay marriage did not make marriage stronger. On the contrary, heterosexual people are now giving up on marriage in favour of cohabitation, a poor and fragile substitute.

One of the most recent studies by the Marriage Foundation, a charity launched in 2012, has revealed that by the age of 14, some 46 per cent of children in the UK today are not living with both natural parents. While a third of these children have experienced the collapse of their parents’ marriages, almost half (46 per cent) have witnessed the separation of parents who were unmarried. Among teens whose natural parents are still together, the majority of parents are married (84 per cent) with only a small minority unmarried (16 per cent). 

UK government family policy is now focused on the provision of childcare and encouraging all parents into work instead of supporting marriage, even though the institution is proven to be the most secure for children. Aside from regulatory changes, the Tories avoided making distinctions between married and cohabiting couples in both tax and benefits systems. The only remaining financial advantage in getting married was a £252 tax allowance for low-income couples introduced in 2015. This is dramatically offset by a substantial ‘couple penalty’ for low-income couples who stand to lose thousands in welfare payments if they move in together or marry. Campaigners have argued that this is a serious barrier to marriage among the poorest which has been completely neglected by politicians, and they want to refocus the marriage allowance.

Without action, marriage is becoming the preserve of the better-off. It is for the elite, for politicians such as Sir Keir Starmer, Rishi Sunak and Lord Cameron. For hoi polloi there is a one-bedroom flat with extortionate rents, contraception and abortion (now at a quarter of a million a year – the highest recorded level), or the meaningless, soul-destroying ‘liberty’ of interchangeable sexual partners to ease the grind of miserable economic servitude. The collapse of the birth rate created by this calamity is remedied by large-scale immigration to which the Treasury is hopelessly addicted.

It is significant that in the ten years since 2014, when the Marriage Act came into force, not one Cabinet Minister has said anything publicly in support of marriage. It isn’t just that the Tories no longer believe in the institution. It’s that they cannot say what marriage is and why it is good and desirable. They cannot publicly uphold the view, without being accused of homophobia, that marriage is an exclusive and lifelong union of a man and a woman naturally ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children. They cravenly sit by while those who do say so are harassed, intimidated and cancelled, at risk of being kicked out of their jobs or attracting a visit from police officers in patrol cars adorned with rainbows.

Marriage is slowly disappearing and even the churches are reluctant to come to its defence. The Church of England is embracing the ideological secular consensus with alacrity while others appear increasingly scared or compromised to speak out. Even the Catholic Church advises voters to elect a government ‘in which families can flourish’ but without once mentioning the word ‘marriage’.

There are of course individual exceptions and I would say the foremost of these is the Rt Rev Mark Davies, the Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury, a man of great integrity, holiness and courage, who addressed the subject of marriage at a Mass in Chester this month.

This is what he said: ‘Research indicates that the single most important factor in a child’s flourishing is the stable relationship of their parents and while this stability is the norm when parents are married, it is the exception when they are not. Recent surveys also indicate most young people in 21st century Britain still aspire to the enduring faithfulness of marriage, even as we suffer one of the highest rates of family breakdown anywhere in Europe and witness the institution of marriage in near-catastrophic decline. 

‘Sadly, in public life and policy we have seen a parallel diminishment of the place of marriage, as if it were merely a lifestyle choice rather than the bedrock on which the well-being of the individual and society is bound up. Amid the many choices and challenges faced at a General Election, we cannot hope for families and society to flourish if marriage does not flourish.  And while we cannot expect a generation of politicians to resolve so great a crisis, we should expect our elected representatives to have the courage and responsibility to recognise the central place of marriage in securing the good of society and of new generations.’

The bishop is right. When marriage is undermined, redefined or abolished, children suffer the most. Britain will remain broken until we have the guts to fix this problem.

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Simon Caldwell
Simon Caldwell
Simon Caldwell is a freelance journalist, formerly of the Daily Mail, whose debut novel ‘The Beast of Bethulia Park’ is out now.. Click on this link to learn more and to order your copy. The sequel is expected in 2024.

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