Harry Benson: Marriage is the answer for committed heterosexual couples

In my family, we have an expression: “WAM”. It means “What About Me” and is usually lobbed in the direction of whichever one of our children is claiming unfair treatment. Actually as parents we try really hard to be fair. But “WAM” reminds them to make the most of what they have, rather than compare themselves to what somebody else might or might not have. Invariably they take it well and we move on.

All of which is to say that the couple who have just had their case for civil partnerships for different sex couples turned down by the Court of Appeal fit firmly into this category. This is a “WAM” couple who were definitely pushing their luck.

‘Civil partnerships’ were created in 2003 to provide similar legal rights and protections for same sex couples as for heterosexual married couples, but without calling it ‘marriage’. Two years ago, the law allowed for marriage of same sex couples, leaving civil partnerships looking like an interim measure.

It’s possible that equal civil partnership for heterosexual couples may yet happen through a private members Bill. But maybe the MPs will see the way the wind is blowing and forget it.

Prior to the introduction of same sex marriage, there was one civil partnership for every 40 marriages. In 2015, for every civil partnership, there were around seven same sex marriages and 278 heterosexual marriages.

The appeal court ruling paves the way for civil partnerships to die a natural death that was happening anyway.

Either way this was always a sideshow about the supposed ‘rights’ of a tiny minority of ‘WAM’ couples. Seriously, how many heterosexual couples would ever have signed up to a legal arrangement that is all but identical to marriage, but just with a different name? The BBC airily touted that it would affect ‘thousands of couples’ in their news reports. Personally, I doubt it would ever have breached the hundreds.

The real issue is not the unfair treatment of a tiny minority of heterosexual “WAM” couples who don’t want marriage but do want a civil partnership, but the genuinely unfair treatment of whole legions of children of cohabiting parents deprived of a right to stable family life because of a lack of formal commitment.

A recent report from the Social Trends Institute showed that Britain’s cohabiting parents are the least stable in the developed world. Forget your worries about high divorce rates. A full 62 per cent of unmarried parents have experienced two or more relationship transitions, out or in, prior to their child’s twelfth birthday.

This is in line with our own research at Marriage Foundation that shows 69 per cent of children sitting their GCSEs aren’t living with both parents if their parents were not married when they were born. If their parents were married, the odds drop to 24 per cent, which is the real divorce rate from a child’s viewpoint. And, yes, our study found that parental age and education made no difference to this gap.

Maybe now that we can put this “WAM” issue back in its box, we can ask the better question “WATC”, “What About The Children”?

Harry Benson is Research Director of Marriage Foundation and author of What Mums Want (And Dads Need To Know)

Harry Benson

  • Simmo

    The impression I got was a pair of North London types, with a beta-male, hipster, metrosexual male “partner” being harangued into “activism” by his salad dodging, patriarch and pie obsessed feminazi Ms.

  • choccycobnobs

    “Britain’s cohabiting parents are the least stable in the developed world”.
    Presumably because our welfare state, the same one that drags the people of 3rd world here, supports ‘single’ mothers.

  • Bik Byro

    “Matthew and I didn’t feel that marriage reflected our relationship,” said Dr Stewart, from Derby. “The institution [of marriage] is very much unequal depending on your religion. We therefore felt it wasn’t a status we were comfortable with because it still had hangovers of inequality from the past.”

    Deluded idiots. How you define the equality in your marriage is up to you as a private couple within that marriage.

    • RingedPlover

      She sounds like someone who takes herself much too seriously.

  • Groan

    Actually I think that it would be a great idea to clearly separate the State’s legal management of “partnerships” and religious understandings of marriage. There are interesting differences, for instance intriguingly “adultery” is excluded from the grounds part of the Civil Partnership reasons for divorce (one wonders why). In a real sense the Civil Partnership puts clearer “boundaries” to the contract , while the higher and more nebulous expectations of “marriage” result in some perverse outcomes (as in the recent case of an ex spouse being responsible for their partner 15 years after the divorce “till death do us part” ?. I note in France when they brought in a “civil partnership”, open to all; much to their surpise it proved incredibly popular with heterosexual couples.
    No I think it makes a great deal of sense for the state to limit its promise on marriage and allow Religious people to have the forms of marriage they wish, secured by the moral authority of the institution. For instance some believe marriage can go beyond the grave, many that its for life. The state then should simply regulate the less ambitious aspects such as care of children or property rights. Rather than attempting to regulate emotional ties or religious understandings “made as one flesh”.

    • Tricia

      The Same Sex Marriage Act clearly states that a same sex couple cannot consummate, but are married, whereas a heterosexual couple must consummate or the marriage is null. It also states that a same sex couple cannot commit adultery (since they cannot consummate) This is legal gymnastics to make the impossible possible. Civil Partnership was and is the correct vehicle for same sex couples.
      Marriage is the formation of a union which can bring new life and form family and genealogical connection and should be the foundation for any society which seeks children should thrive and become responsible citizens.

      • Groan

        Thank you for this. It is interesting that in the public “discourse” (yes I know that’s lefty speak) the very definite purpose of marriage, children and the next generations, is almost completely left out. Another example of the way in which what happens isn’t necessarily what the law actually says as the law becomes “interpreted”. Hence we have myths about “no fault” divorce, where a reason is in fact needed, however contrived: or “abortion on demand” which is most definitely not in the Act.
        What we do know is that “cohabiting” without marriage appears to be strong feature of anglophone “developed” societies, even compared to the most “progressive” Scandinavian or Germanic nations. I wonder if it isn’t something to do with a cultural belief in the individual that is particularly powerful in the Anglosphere. After all the US is very different in many ways (for instance far greater Christian “lobby”) yet it leads in the extend of cohabitation and single parenting.
        It was interesting that in French the 10,000s of hetero sexual civil partnerships appear to have been additional to the numbers “standard” marriages increasing “commitment” of a sort. I don’t know what it is but there appears a very strong resistance in “our” culture to losing autonomy, even to the partner or to children. as if compromises in life are always an imposition.

        • Our comments overlapped. More good points, especially about ‘autonomy’. Where did that come from? And could it be the primary reason we have the most unstable cohabitees in the developed world?

          • Groan

            The though about autonomy really is my own speculation about the very marked difference between English Speaking developed nations and others one might expect to be similar. Also trying to account for the much more actively Christian nature of much of the USA yet with similarly high cohabitation and single parent figures to the UK or Australia very much more “secular” in every way. Although there is a tendency for the media to gleefully point at data from other European nations, in fact the figures for the English Speaking developed nations are in a different order of magnitude.
            In looking at teenage pregnancy some years ago I was struck by the way in which there was a marked cultural differences. So in a number of north European countries, having given out advice and so on they take a very dim view of young people being irresponsible and make this abundantly clear. While in Italy and Poland a strong sense of family responsibility still appears to encourage responsible behaviour. So in both cases though they have a teenage pregnancy problem it was and is far far smaller. Yet in the UK with generous benefits and the US with very limited benefits the numbers were and are huge. It appeared that the common feature was the assertion of the “right” to have a child however irresponsible, with the “tab” being picked up by the state in the UK but mainly by family in the US.
            This led me to look at other issues and wonder at the unwillingness of our culture to accept the responsibility side of the rights and responsibility equation. It just seems to be at the root of lots of issues.

        • Tricia

          Yes. You raise some interesting points. Why has same sex marriage gained such traction in the western cultures? Possibly because of the degrading of marriage with divorce being more easily obtained. In conjunction with the 1960’s, the advent of the Pill and the ability to control pregnancy. This has disconnected children from sex. We now have added to the mix IVF where you get to “control” nature to a small extent.
          Our European neighbours seemed to have retained some of their Catholic tradition, whereas the Protestant tradition has capitulated more easily. In Paris tens of thousands came out on the streets to protest same sex marriage, precisely because of family. The organisation is called Manif pour Tous and they are very vocal on surrogacy and sperm donation because of genetic linkage. Laws are stricter in France on these issues.
          The end result in this country has been the unhappiest children in Europe and rising mental illness.
          Children need mothers and fathers who commit to them until they reach adulthood, not individualistic narcissists. I speak as someone who has been through the trauma of divorce and know the impact on the family. Sticking together is not easy, but it should be a stated aim.

          • Groan

            I recall many years ago listening to a Radio interview with Joyce Grenfell (a british comedy actress and comedienne). Not given to interviews it was quite personal. I remember she revealed that her parents had divorced once she and her sisters had become adults (in those days 21!). She very movingly said how very grateful she’d felt that they had “concealed” their unhappiness, it transpired they had been so for many years, in order to give her and her sisters a happy upbringing. Her simplicity and sincerity always stayed with me. Of course not everyone can do this, not least as it took both parents to agree.
            It is the saddest feature of our age that trying to aim high but sometimes falling is seen as some evil , while not even trying is a “good”.

          • Busy Mum

            Absolutely. As a Protestant, I am alarmed but not surprised that the RCC has managed to assume the appearance of superiority with regards to maintaining moral standards. The protestant capitulation over same-sex ‘marriage’ is just the inevitable follow-on from abandoning all other truth. If you don’t practise what you preach, you end up preaching what you practise, unless you are removed from preaching…

    • Lots of points here, Groan. You’re spot on about the exit route from civil partnerships. I think you know perfectly well the reason why ‘adultery’ is excluded! Defining adultery boggles the finest legal minds and would be all but impossible. Nonetheless, in principle, I’d be quite happy if they did allow CPs for heterosexuals – despite my ‘WAM’ comments. Signing a CP would be a clear sign of dedication – an active decision to take on a new identity as a couple with a future – and is likely to be good for stability in the same way as marriage. However, even if one can exit more freely, the rights that go with CPs are in no sense a ‘limited’ commitment. Indeed they were set up to mimic marriage. in the end, who knows how popular CPs would be. Prior to CPs, Ken Livingstone set up a civil register book in London: it attracted only a few dozen signatures. Maybe this would get more. One more thing, two thirds of weddings are civil, so the ‘marriage is religious’ argument is redundant and has been for years.

      • Groan

        Good point about civil weddings, but again the separate nature of these appears to be obscured in the debates about marriage. I think a great deal of the debate is particularly unhelpful to churches, as they are pressured into same sex marriage, when its perfectly easy to have a civil marriage. I come from a religious background without a paid “priesthood” so it was always the case that a marriage was composed of a ceremony at which the local registrar was present and one a specifically “religious rite”. This is still the case. So I suppose I’m more comfortable with the “Civil” and “Religious” split. Unsurprisingly in conversation people don’t readily make this distinction. Just as quite against reality and constant media reminders people do genuinely believe there is such a thing as “common law” spouses.

  • Timmy

    In the US, cohabitation means all the benefits of marriage for both partners, without the threat of lifetime alimony for the man.

    • Groan

      So do states recognise “common law” marriage? And my impression is that “marriage” can have variations in according to State. Similarish to the differences between the UKs three main legal jurisdictions, its three kingdoms.

      • Timmy

        About 10 states do.

  • RPM

    Well after forty years of marriage I can honestly say I wish I had never met the woman. In days of old you got engaged, married, had kids then died relatively young by modern standards. Now after the kids leave the nest you could be together for another thirty plus years and this in retirement. Both at home together is maybe not what nature intended.
    My son and his MGTOW mates don’t want to know, they say it’s all about the wedding day as far as their female peer’s are concerned and as soon as boredom sets in it’s off to the divorce lawyer and a maintained life for the future.

    • You have maybe a point. My mom was heard to say after dad retired that, “I married him forever but not for lunch.” And yet, they managed 50+ years, probably a good thing he spent a fair amount of time out in the shop. 🙂

    • Simmo

      Boom! Wow, thanks for being candid. Fantastic post 😉

  • Andy

    TradCon gonna TradCon.

  • alecto

    After nearly 40 years of marriage and still going strong I can recommend it. Its not all been a bed of roses but you have to work through problems together and not give up when the going gets a bit rough. I can say hand on heart we are stronger now than ever.

  • Bogbrush

    Obviously they are very stupid and self-conscious in this but I wouldn’t let disdain for their absurdity cloud our minds to simple truths.

    Adults should be able to enter into whatever arrangements or commitments they want to, provided it does no direct harm to others. If they want to call it marriage, or civil partnerships, or a contract, or anything they like it’s up to them, and they should define the terms themselves as with any contract. They need to ensure consideration passes so that it is enforceable in law should either party breach it or want to invoke termination clauses.
    Yes, I agree it’s not the best for children but I’m afraid that other than disapproval or encouragement with facts it is way beyond the scope of anyone to enforce our opinions on others.

    Now, if they did that can they just get on with it and not indulge in their self-important bleating about “rights”? I just wish the State would get the Hell out of the way and stop giving people like the the platform they seek to do their thing.

  • Partridge

    Every woman should be married. Every man should stay single.

    • choccycobnobs

      Well, there is the same sex marriage option nowadays.