Shortly before the Government moved to legalise same-sex marriages in mainland Britain, the then Home Secretary Theresa May told the Daily Telegraph that ‘homosexuals will be missionaries to the wider society and make it [marriage] “stronger”.’
The Coalition for Marriage and many others disagreed. We argued that marriage would be severely undermined. In changing by law the definition of an institution that predated parliamentary government, David Cameron’s government committed itself to chaos.
If something as fundamental as the heterosexual nature of marriage can be redefined by the state, then why not the other traditional parts of it such as lifelong monogamy? Why not the very concept of men and women, come to that?
And so it has proved. If campaigners get their way we will soon have a bewildering smorgasbord of options in place of traditional marriage.
At present homosexuals and heterosexuals may marry and the former may enter into civil partnerships. The Times and the head of the Supreme Court would like couples who live together for two years or more to be treated, to all intents and purposes, as though they had married. Now the campaign for heterosexual civil partnerships would appear to have Government support with a vote on Tory MP Tim Loughton’s private member’s bill slated for February.
All these options – marriage, civil partnerships, and cohabitation – would end up with similar rights and privileges should these campaigns succeed. But only the married couple would have accepted the responsibility of monogamous, lifelong commitment.
The other options are variants of disposable marriage. Without the public commitment to lifelong union, such families are inherently unstable environments in which to raise children.
Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies backs this up. One in five cohabiting couples were no longer living together as their child turned three as opposed to one in twenty married couples. One in four had moved out by the child’s fifth birthday against fewer than one in ten married couples. The IFS attributed much of this difference to the characteristics of married people, rather than marriage itself, but these tell us little other than that people with attributes commonly associated with responsibility tend to commit to lifelong marriage, as you would expect.
Not only is marriage better for children, it is better for spouses too. Civitas has reported that cohabitation is likelier to lead to living alone, being cheated on, earning less, being less healthy and being a victim of domestic violence.
So what has happened to Theresa May’s marriage missionaries, the homosexual spouses causing the rest of us to rush to the altar?
They seem to have had the opposite effect. Heterosexual marriage numbers are down by 6.2 per cent since 2012, the year before same-sex marriage began its journey through Parliament.
Beyond this, popular culture is ever more obsessed with the wedding day, to the detriment of the life that follows. The average cost of a wedding hit a high of £27,161 this year, a figure no doubt fuelled by television shows that concentrate on the process of becoming married to the exclusion of the life thereafter.
I understand those who would be happy to see civil partnerships made into a sort of covenanted friendship, a means of avoiding inheritance tax open to relatives as well as friends (Theoretically two friends could enter a civil partnership but two sisters couldn’t.) But that option is not on the table at the moment.
We must confront what it is, and that is privilege without responsibility. If you want to share your children, your assets and your life with someone, the best advice is and will always be to marry.