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Catherine Marcus: In defence of marriage

Catherine Marcus is a civil servant and writer

Marcus I read Siobhan Courtney’s recent blog on the Spectator's Coffee House site with interest, as she condemned the government for failing to support legislation that would accord unmarried, cohabiting couples the same rights as married ones. I noted that she was calling for the protection the law ascribed to married people, without the pesky inconvenience of getting married.

She passionately argued against the restrictive nature of present legislation, as part of one such ‘happily unmarried’ couple, and whilst I found her persuasive, the crux of her argument struck me as disingenuous.

Yes, I realise it’s the 21stcentury - so how dare I suggest that one family structure is superior to another? And yes, I know that marriage hardly acts as a guarantee of lifelong commitment, given that one in two marital unions ends in divorce.  And of course, happily unmarried couples prove their commitment to one another in a myriad of different ways, big and small, without the need for a marriage certificate to sanctify their union.

But what troubles me, in this rush to insist that marriage doesn’t really matter - not really - is the great pile of discarded shibboleths burning away in the bonfire of sacred cows, where ludicrous ideas like organised religion, the importance of fathers and academic rigour smoulder. These outdated concepts were swept away in order to make way for a bright new dawn, but instead they have left a gaping void, now filled with any number of post-modern constructs, like consumerism and celebrity culture.  

The messianic fervour with which the most ardent socialists I know denounce God makes me wonder whether we need great unknowable concepts in order to understand why we are here and to gain a connection with something greater than ourselves, something for which we would fight for. Perhaps, when you do away with the anchoring principles of country and kin, you do not move towards a greater understanding of yourself. You simply create a vacancy.

I am sympathetic to Ms. Courtney’s feeling that her relationship has been diminished in the eyes of society, because she and her partner are not married. But the legislation that would rectify this state of affairs would effectively make marriage redundant, condemning the most enduring social construct in mankind’s history to irrelevance. Once there is no reason to get married, an already fragile institution will take another step towards the dustbin of history.

Courts would continue to be called on an ever-greater number of cases where a judge will be asked to make decisions in minutes that will affect children for their entire lifetimes. And the state would be asked to step in as provider and support for the absent father, a weekly injection of benefits standing in for love, authority and guidance.

It is easier to destroy what’s come before than it is to be part of the collective effort that painstakingly build it, and there is a glory to be had in being part of the wrecking crew, but while I see Ms. Courtney’s point, I do not agree that consigning yet another one of society’s building blocks, one which came into being primarily for the protection of women and children, will improve a rapidly deteriorating situation.


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