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Harry Benson

May I encourage Mr Lilico to look at Fractured Families and perhaps some of the articles on marriage/cohabitation I've written on my BCFT website. I'd like to make two points.
First, it is a gross error to equate marriage with cohabitation. Couples may look similar from the outside. They may even report that they are similarly committed. But their behaviours are often quite different on the inside - money management and division of household roles are two examples - and their relational outcomes diverge markedly - unmarried parents with young children are more than twice as likely to split up, even after taking into account socio-economic factors. Ultimately marriage is different, not because of the ceremony or the legal document or even the people involved, but because of the attitudes that marriage represents. The latest research suggests that whereas women's commitment is most likely biologically-based, men's commitment seems to be more cognitively-based - i.e. men need to make clear decisions about our future time horizon in order to commit. This decision about the future also influences our willingness to sacrifice our individual interests for the sake of a relationship. Women may commit and sacrifice more automatically in a cohabiting relationship. But men need to be more deliberative. If women want committed sacrificial men, they won't get them through time-limited "marriages". To conflate cohabitation and marriage as the same, which is the government view, is to disregard the evidence on attitudes, behaviours and outcomes.
The second point is that the state/taxpayer has a clear interest in encouraging - not forcing or mandating - family stability precisely because the state/taxpayer picks up the bill when things go wrong. All sorts of laws and policies hang on this principle, smoking being a recent example. Family stability is most often found within marriage. The state/taxpayer therefore has an interest in encouraging and distinguishing marriage in particular - because it is more stable than cohabitation.

Ken Stevens

Can't disagree with any of the principles outlined. However, it is rather sad that we seem as a society to have adapted so readily to "as long as we both shall love" rather than "...live".

We weren't a tame bunch of youths by any means (- bikers!) but the majority of our '60s-married circle are still together.

Still, it's another manifestation of consumer choice, I suppose ;-)

Tony Makara

I have never been married, but I have 'Lived' with women for lengthy periods spanning over years, even having a child. So in many ways it should have felt as if I was married, but it never did. Living with a partner is not marriage, and there is not the same degree of commitment. In such situations it is all too easy to simply bail out of the relationship. Marriage has a great psychological value in that it is a commitment recognized by church and state. I believe marriage unites more than just the couple involved, it unites their families too and adds to cement our social fabric, this is the very stuff that builds society.

Andrew Lilico


I didn't "equate" marriage with cohabitation. I said that those who cohabit are "imprudently married". That imprudence is of great significance, as I set out in the article, for without an explicit exchange of promises, people are only dimly aware of the moral commitments they have made, and as a consequence their degree of psychological commitment might be much less. This is the single most important reason why it is good for the State to offer a form of marriage.

What I *do* deny is that cohabitees are not subject to the same moral requirements as married couples - as if it were okay for a cohabiting man to sleep with other women, say, or to refuse to pay towards his children's upkeep. Those who cohabit take on the moral commitments of marriage - they are morally married - but have been imprudent in not undertaking an explicit exchange of vows - with the many disastrous consequences to which Harry alludes.

Harry Benson

I misinterpreted you and apologise for my error.


We should dust off the concept of common law marriage; i.e. marriage by habit and repute. So if a couple call themself Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so, and they live and act as if they are married, then they are married; the legal marriage framework becoming merely a tool to make it easier to prove this status.

Bigamy should be all but abolished, except in certain circumstances (like marriage being abused to obtain certain benefits); there is no reason why the state should interfere with a man who takes multiple wives through habit and repute.

Family courts need to be massively reformed. They should have the power to refuse divorces if they are deemed spurious. Terms of divorce should be decided by juries (under an extension of the mandatory jury service) to eliminate the perceived systemic biases in current the system.

Furthermore, we should create a new "common-law partnership" in which the tax system will recognise a cohabitation between close acquaintances or relatives. It need not imply a romantic or sexual relationship; it could be used to help say, two cohabiting elderly sisters deal with taxation difficulties if one of them dies, for example. It would also allow us to tip-toe around the issue of same-sex marriage much more tactfully that the marriage-by-another-name "civil partnerships".

Andrew Lilico


I agree that polygamous marriage contracts should be permitted, as I have written on a number of previous occasions. I also agree that cohabitation should have legal force as something akin to common-law marriage.

Tony Makara

Those who advocate bigamy fail to factor in the effects of such a scenario on the psychological health of any children involved. Further, if we are to move away from the debasement of women we should be repulsed by the idea of men collecting wives as chattel. A wealthy man could soon accumulate a pen full of wives. Take the obscene example of playboy boss Hugh Hefner who shares a bedroom with at least three young women every night. Those who advocate multifarious relationships are naive and hasten the very social breakdown we are trying to stop.


Previous generations often had a blunter, more direct wway of describing matters. In the Prayer Book the first reason given for marriage is the procreation and rearing of children. Mutual comfort for the partners is only third. My impression, certainly regarding my children’s generation is that they still think marriage is the best state for rearing children, but that before then if you are just want companionship or recreational sex cohabiting or freer arrangements are the norm.
This seems quite healthy to me. Modern medicine means that relationships can be enjoyed without the risk of procreation.
When a couple want to start a family, however, they are taking a huge financial and emotional commitment. If anything children are more dependent on their parents for longer now than ever before. So a stable, long-term relationship is important. I would go further and say that grandparents in similar relationships are an additional strength to the family.
Basically, therefore, I don’t think matters have radically changed. If you want to start a family a long-term and, better still, lifetime commitment is still the preferred option. Marriage and families go together, just as they did in the past. I'm not convinced the state has much or a role in any other relationships.

Michael Davidson

The first thing that needs to be done is legalise same-sex marriages. It's disgraceful that we still have this form of apartheid between the sexualities.

If people value marriage, then let everybody have access to marriage. If Cameron proposed this, it would actually prove that the Conservative party is no longer homophobic.

Mrs Campbell

How very much of the antique Roman Andrew Lilico can be - in the Roman Republic there were two kinds of marriage contract differentiated in much the same way as outlined

Andrew Lilico

that is *very* interesting, Mrs Campbell@1:43. Can you tell us more?

William Norton

A lot of people who today are 'co-habiting' would have been regarded as married under English law as it stood before the enactment of Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act in 1753 (which can be regarded as a piece of meddling state interference), and I expect when all the consultations have finished we'll end up with something pretty similar. Civil law has always been able to regulate the definition of 'marriage' and it would not affect the underlying theology. I don't suppose anyone these days is terribly concerned about, e.g. the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act of 1907, although the subject matter exercised quite a few Victorian novelists.

(Long historical digression: two Scottish ladies simultaneously claimed to be the lawful widow of Captain Campbell and thus entitled to his war pension; both had reasonable grounds under the law as it then stood, although of course only one of them could be right; this outraged Lord Chancellor Hardwicke who decided to stop all this nonsense by modernising the law to abolish all the commonlaw categories of marriage and confining them to Anglican church ceremonies, or a limited number of cases where licenses/registry offices were permitted; he then found he couldn't push through a change in Scotland so he changed the law in England only - thus 'traditional' and 'proper' English church marriages were an attempt by the state to regulate pension rights. In Scotland.)


If cohabitation is to have the same legal force as marriage, at what point will living together for a while suddenly become committed cohabitation?
Men will find themselves liable to support women they never intended to commit to.
Women will still rely on unspoken commitments which turn out to have no legal weight.
Who decides? Do we set a time limit? What a mess.

William Norton

Deborah: excellent points - and the answer is that the answers were all worked out 250 years ago and could easily be dusted down and brought up to date. Your specific query about co-habitation for example.

Having just checked the point for this message, I think the answer is "at least 21 days in Scotland" (plus one or two other conditions). Ironically, Scotland retained marriage by cohabitation and repute until 2006. So, once again, this joined-up government has just abolished something it claims it wants to introduce.


Predatory Adultery?
Taking away someone's spouse?

How is that going to work unless the spouse is willing to be led astray? Don't let people off their responsibility by turning them into 'innocent victims of a predatory adulterer' (or non-predatory ones).

The same thing about sexual jealousy -- marriage doesn't cause or prevent people from doing insane things because they sexuality is driving their emotions into insanity. Being jealous beyond the pale it is not 'normal', only sick and insane people do it -- and they blow up in any old way, jealousy is only one possibility here, it could easily be road rage, or they beat their kids, the list truly is endless. Stop accepting people's lame excuses, it doesn't matter why someone did something, only that they did it!

As for the rest of your writing -- the state has no business telling people how to live their lives, you should know by now that it's impossible to legislate for sanity.

All you can do is to make doing the right thing normal, desirable and easy to achieve. Changing the contract into some kind of prostitution/breeder arrangement for a random amount of time totally defeats the idea of marriage: Find the one person you really like and build a life together with them.

Funny enough, when people manage to do just this, no marriage, contract, or other formality is required for love.

Why not ask why too many people's souls are too crippled to achieve this?

Solve that -- make it easy and natural for people to do the right thing(s) because they want to do them, and the rest of the puzzle will fall into place.


Andrew Lilco wrote:

"I agree that polygamous marriage contracts should be permitted, as I have written on a number of previous occasions. "

Polygamy is an abusive evil that is a crime against women, children, families, marriage and everything that our modern society stands for.

Besides that, a polygamous family can only be afforded by the very rich or those financed by the welfare state.

Another thing you should consider is that humans are born with a nearly even ratio of the sexes.

Utah polygamists sort out this 'problem' by exiling their own sons from the community and treating them as outcasts, thus reserving the eligible girls for the top honchos in that community. And if a community doesn't expel it's surplus males, then there are many other social problems lurking as the young men are outcompeted financially by the older, more established men and won't be able to start their own family and life until they reach middle age.

This way lies rape and strife, in fact, many of the social problems we have are because men no longer get married early enough, instead they get to hang out enjoying a boyhood that reaches into (and beyond) their middle age, and misbehave with a lot of 'spare money' instead of being a normal family father, earning and saving their money for the mortgage, food and diapers.

Ps.: Being an eternal casanova is not very good training for becoming a good husband and father. That is why so many late marriage are failing, being in love is only the beginning requirement of a marriage, staying in love is the actual feat. But someone who hasn't managed to do that in the last 10-20 years previously is hardly going to be reformed at an instant with getting 'old enough to be sensible'. Magic only works in fairy tales, sorry ;(

Brendan Munnelly

A well thought-out article with a practical focus. Removing the 'enforceability' from the state marriage contract makes marriage a commitment only to the family law system.

Amid all the Conversative-slogans about 'power to the people' and 'government as servant nto master' very few have applied that very sensible concept to marriage. Within the limits generally applicable to contracts, why not let couples create their own wedding vows?

It's something we're working on at wedomarriage.com

Tips by Marguns

For a number of Orlando people in this age group, it's a financial issue. A woman could lose her pension if she remarries. It is just too costly. So even though they may feel they are not behaving appropriately, people feel they don't have choices."

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