Martin Sewell is a Family Lawyer specialising in Child Protection and Adoption and an Anglican Lay Reader. His work puts him in daily contact with the disadvantaged of society who experience the consequences of social policy the most acutely. "I am more interested in human beings than human rights, and I want to take the actual effects of liberal change back to its advocates and ask "Is that really what we want for our fellow citizens?"
Nowhere is this more noticeable than in our society's
approach to the institution of marriage.
It is a feature of every successful culture on earth,
and whether one regards it as an "honourable estate, instituted by God" or
simply as a mutually beneficial Darwinian contract for the propagation of genes,
it certainly appears to have a provenance of considerable antiquity and
To Conservatives, whose watchword is usually
pragmatism, that ought to have been a big enough hint to ensure an inherent bias in
support of the institution, and yet somewhere along the way, an over enthusiasm
for individualism enabled a core value to become not only unfashionable, but
seemingly unpalatable to defend. Thus when David Cameron was recently bold
enough to mention the love that dare not speak its name on the BBC Today
programme, he was immediately, and predictably accused of wishing to
discriminate against the unmarried, and took some moments to get back on track.
If modern Conservatism is to be not only progressive,
but effective in its supportive of the poor, it is time for us to reconnect with
the strong reasons for supporting marriage for the very best of social,
personal, economic, and practical reasons.
A generation of Woman's Hour has so plainly skewed
the thinking of the majority of our media hacks that they cannot detach
themselves from the idea that marriage is nothing more than a historic legacy
from times when women were virtual chattels. Like the revolutionaries of 17
th Century France or 20 th Century Russia, marriage is denounced as a "mere
piece of paper", a bourgeois institution, overlooking the subsequent and
necessary restitution in both historical cases.
Traditionally it is the baby that is thrown out with
the bathwater, and so, literally, we find it to be the case here.
Having worked as a Family lawyer for over 30 years,
and much of it in the field of child protection, I can testify anecdotally to
what is unquestionably the outcome of every academic study in the field at home
and abroad. Marriage is good for children.
The breadth of evidence is staggering. Whether one
looks at prisoners, drug addicts, the homeless, alcoholics, the truants, the
unemployed, the mentally ill, the long term benefit dependent or any other
cohort of people at the nastier end of society's spectrum, there you will find
the children of the unmarried overwhelmingly and disproportionately represented.
This is not a co-incidence.
If marriage were a new miracle drug being offered to
NIHCE for the cure of social ills, its demonstrable statistical efficacy would
be so impressive that it would be passed without clinical trials!
It is worth supporting on compassionate grounds for
children alone, however the argument runs deeper than that.
Every failed child inflicts a social and economic
cost on society. Some will be simple life long non-contributors - a waste on
both a personal and societal level. Many others will be more malign,
actively anti-social and perhaps exponentially inflicting costs through the
necessity of more police, psychiatrists, counsellors, lawyers etc as they in
their turn create further dysfunctional families and children, often serially.
There are of course those who are unmarried who bring
children up well and successfully, but this is not unlike the proverbial man in
the pub whose lifelong friend drives at speed with excess alcohol and smokes 60
cigarettes a day without harming himself or anyone else. It can be done, but statistically is best
If marriage is to be promoted however, we need to
re-balance the current social account.
Founded as it was on mutual responsibilities as well
as rights, successive legislators have undermined it by the regular application
of the law of unintended consequences.
The tax and welfare benefits systems are heavily
weighted against those who marry.
parent, two children marriage with one earner on average income of £24,000 pa
will be only marginally better off than a similar lone parent on state
They pay £5,000 pa more in tax than they receive in
benefits, yet were they to separate they would jointly be better off by some £7,000.
By allocating improved rights to co-habitees, we
grant the benefits of marriage without the responsibilities. Marriage becomes
less attractive in consequence, and we are all worse off, not least because
through these economic disincentives, the reproductive rate of working families
is lower than that of the dependent. Increasingly through a cock-eyed benefit
system, those having most children are those least equipped to care for them.
From such examples it is clear that as a society we
all have a vested interest in marriage between parents. If that means
discriminating in favour of marriage then let us not be ashamed to say it and
justify our stance.
Almost inevitably - and irrelevantly - we shall have
to justify why we might discriminate against gay partnerships.This is not
through any personal hostility or disapproval. Put simply however I have no
"interest" in how a pair of adults conduct their lives. They are free to make
their own self- interested arrangements without my blessing or censure.
Where family units are concerned however I do have a
very real reason to take notice and wish to promote stability for the reasons
Now I have little doubt that the Metropolitan elite
will tell us that we cannot change society, overlooking the fact that they
managed to do so within a forty year period.
Happily in the USA
there is evidence that strengthening the family
can be achieved together with a number of desirable objectives, including
reducing family breakdown, abortion, lone parenthood and teenage pregnancy. For
further details of this "It takes a Family" by Senator Rick Santorum is well
worth a read.