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        « Charles Moore's Conservatism | Main | The Tory Europhiles have a problem with democracy »

        Comments

        Brian Turner

        The problem isn't one of "marriage or not" as much as stable relationships.

        Too much emphasis on marriage needs reminding of the high divorce rate between married couples, and the poor recognition in law regarding long-term relationships outside of marriage between heterosexuals.

        Stable long-term relationships are always good for children and society in general, regardless as to whether that relationship is recognised or not on on a tax certificate.

        Sean Fear


        In practice though, stable relationships are more likely to exist once people have made a commitment to each other, through marriage, than if they have not. 60% of marriages, after all, last until death.

        Editor

        Sorry Brian but the statistics certainly back up Sean Fear's view.

        In http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,1071-1538361,00.html>this* article for The Times, Mary Ann Sieghart explains, from her own experience, why cohabitation is less stable than marriage:

        "in my experience, cohabitation almost always has a contingent quality to it. You think to yourself: “I’ll stay in this relationship as long it makes me happy/as long as I’m still in love/as long as things are going well.” You know that you can always leave if you feel like it. As a result, your time horizons are much shorter. When I was cohabiting, I never thought about growing old with my boyfriend — it was all I could do to think beyond the summer. Marriage feels quite different. Yes, of course, divorce is available, but it is an absolutely last resort. You have promised to stay together for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health. If I were unhappy in my marriage, I wouldn’t just leave; I would try to do something about it within the marriage."

        The article explains why Ms Sieghart believes that cohabitees should not enjoy the same rights as married couples. She fears that such an attack on the specialness of marriage would cause fewer people to enter the married relationship.

        Stephen Newton

        We can measure the level of freedom in a society by the diversity of the lifestyles it tolerates. I'm happily married but, unlike certain Conservatives, I certainly don't believe my lifestyle is superior to that of a cohabiting couple.

        This love of the Nanny State is a particularly silly Conservative trait.

        Editor

        And while we're at it, Stephen, why don't we say that Shakespeare is no better than Jeffrey Archer and a degree from Oxford is no better than a degree from a start-up college in Utah and that the Chief Executive of a leading technology firm shouldn't be paid more than a bartender? By saying that marriage is better than cohabitation or an Oxford degree is usually better than a Utah college degree we are not saying that the cohabitee or Utah graduate is less of a person than the married person or Oxford graduate. All people are created equal and have equal dignity. But our society doesn't have much of a future if fear of offending someone means that we can't say that certain 'things' are usually more socially-beneficial than other 'things'.

        I'm not saying that all marriages are more stable and secure than all cohabiting relationships. But the numbers overwhelmingly say that they are most of the time. A government that ignored those numbers would not be serving society. Public policy encourages the aspiration to learn, save, start a business. It would also be sensible for government to do much more to encourage the aspiration to form healthy marriages.

        Stephen Newton

        People in happy, stable relationships are more likely to marry. Marriage is an effect of a healthy relationship, not a cause. Furthermore, a couple who have fallen out, and consequently resent the child that binds them, will not find their parenting skills enhanced by marriage.

        James Hellyer

        "People in happy, stable relationships are more likely to marry."

        Then why is the divorce rate higher among couples who co-habit prior to marriage? If their marriages were the result of the relationships they already had, surely those couples would be less likely to divorce?

        Stephen Newton

        James

        Not all happy, stable relationships involve cohabitation and so that statistic does nothing to undermine the idea that, 'people in happy, stable relationships are more likely to marry'. Only in very special circumstances do people marry without having first formed a relationship with their future spouse. I'm suggesting its the success of this relationship (which may or may not involve cohabitation) that informs a decision on whether or not to marry. That is, that marriage is the result of stability not (as argued here) the other way around.

        Passing through

        From long and sad experience, Conservative imperatives to promote family values almost invariably coincide with local news illustrating the precise opposite, the present being no exception:
        http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/tm_objectid=15532949&method=full&siteid=94762&headline=sleaze-is-back-name_page.html

        The appropriate lesson seems to be that earnest political prescriptions about family values are apt to rebound for all the evidence that stable, happy families are best for children.

        James Hellyer

        "I'm suggesting its the success of this relationship (which may or may not involve cohabitation) that informs a decision on whether or not to marry."

        Fair enough. But do you not also think that marriage itself will help keep a relationship stable, because it is more obviously a long term commitment than any other form of relationship?

        Richard Pope

        It is possiable to turn this on it's head, and say that the reason that relationships other than marrage have these alleged negative effects is because the state doesnt afford them the same level of support and rights as marrage.

        i.e. the benifits are a self forilling profecy.

        Paul

        I grew up watching Public Information Braodcasts (PIBs) warning about the dangers of, or inadvisability of, activities such as playing with matches, crossing the road, littering, swimming in rivers, drink-driving and so on. Probably you did too. I invite those who advocate a role for the state in promoting marriage to post a brief outline of a suitable taxpayer-funded PIB. If nothing else, the results should be amusing.

        Passing through

        A truly great idea. I so look forward to seeing the Conservative code for best practice in marriage. Perhaps we'll even have a national institute of guidance with an official mission to upgrade the code as new research or superior moral guidance become available to illuminate the more righteous way forward.

        Naturally, as with Robespierre's commitment to achieving the virtuous society, we can take it that any who criticise this course are necessarily evil people by definition so we can dispose of them accordingly.

        Cllr Graham Smith

        Why any political party should seek to put forward its own "code for best practice in marriage", when the public already have access to a perfectly adequate alternative that has stood the test of time, is beyond me.

        Peter

        This love of the Nanny State is a particularly silly Conservative trait.

        Agreed. That's one of the most important reasons Conservatives cannot be indifferent to the family breakdown that continually creates hundreds of thousands more who then need to live off the Nanny State because they aren't part of a stable, self-supporting relationship. Even such factors as truancy in childhood - and obviously therefore one's likelihood of living off the welfare state in later life - are linked back to whether that child's parents are committed by marriage.

        If you believe no efforts should be made to resist social libertinism, I'm not going to try to change your mind. But if you do think that, you're also going to have to let go of all those Conservative goals you do believe in, smaller government and ancient civil liberties especially. The former destroys the latter as surely as night follows day.

        Passing through

        I readily accept the weight of research evidence that children benefit from growing up in stable and happy families but what do you suppose a Conservative government ought to do about the fact that some 40% of children are born to couples who aren't married?

        Simon C

        "what do you suppose a Conservative government ought to do about the fact that some 40% of children are born to couples who aren't married?"

        Implement policies to reduce that figure.

        At the very least, Conservatives should ensure that the tax & benefit system contains no disincentive to marry. Positive incentives would be good. It should restore the transferable tax allowance for married couples. Supporting the work of Community Family Trusts would also be good.

        We should also challenge the anti-marriage culture, so that people are not actively put off marrying by misinformation. This means having the courage to talk about the evidence that marriage works.

        LA_Guy

        This debate is thoughtful and intelligent, but aside from all the statistics it should be remembered that pretty much every civilization that has existed since prehistory has exalted marriage and family as the central building blocks of human society. Homosexual relationships, co-habiting partnerships or "urban tribes" (in the loopy lingo of San Francisco) are simply not alternatives to this fundamental building block. Homosexual relationships are almost always unstable, short-lived and sterile. Co-habiting couple relationships are conducted under the knowledge that either partner can bolt when the going gets rough. The
        "urban tribe" concept (where groups of friends replace family) is just laughably naiive.

        When marriage and the family are scorned or supplanted by bogus alternatives such as those described above, social decay, disorder and misery results. Would anyone seriously disagree that Britain and Europe are in decline? That there exists a malaise or an emptiness at the heart of their societies? The reason for this vague but persistent unhappiness that you detect among Europeans is that the joy, stability and sense of connection to past a future generations that marriage and family provides has been scorned.

        What is to be done? Government cannot decry responsibility, it must find a way to repair the damage done by the intellectuals and secularists of the post-1960's world. If government cannot provide the leadership to repair a fractured and decaying society then who can?

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