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Martin Sewell: A rational case in support of marriage

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 overwhelming success.
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 avoided.

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.
A two 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 benefit.
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 described above.
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.


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