‘Blended’ families, featuring step-parents and children from different relationships, may have unexpected benefits, a Supreme Court justice has declared.
Speaking in Belfast at a meeting of the Northern Ireland Medico-Legal Society earlier this week, Lord Wilson of Culworth declared:
“Death has always enabled the surviving spouse to remarry but the availability of divorce precipitates many more remarriages and in their wake come many more step-families and relationships of the half-blood. So the blended family now often replaces the nuclear family.”
The former Lord Justice of Appeal added:
“I am not convinced that it is a bad thing: might it not be healthier for children to learn at a very early age to cope with relationships in a mixed and wider family group?”
In his lecture, Lord Wilson explores the concept of entitlement to marriage and the various social restrictions which have been placed on marriage over the centuries, including the gender of the couples wishing to wed.
On the subject of same sex marriage, the peer hailed the effects of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“When, like me, you reflect on the benefits and, yes of course, also on certain drawbacks of our having incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into our law in 1998 and of our then having committed ourselves to affording considerable respect to the interpretation of Convention rights favoured by the court in Strasbourg, please do not forget the dramatic improvement in the rights of minority groups, such as gay and trans-gender people, which the Convention, as interpreted in Strasbourg, has achieved and which, over 20 years, has raised our life together in this Kingdom to a higher level of mutual respect..”
“Wisely, however, the Strasbourg court has stopped short of concluding that the Convention requires states to allow same sex people to adopt or to get married. It concedes that such is a matter for each state to choose for itself, provided always that the choice made is compatible with people’s right not to suffer discrimination in the enjoyment of their family life.”
Lord Wilson points out that
“Same sex marriage is not a novel concept. It was allowed in ancient Egypt and in Republican Rome although it became outlawed under the Roman Empire. Then, for the next 1500 years, Christian doctrine (and I say this as a committed member of the Church of England) cast an irrational opprobrium upon all sexual acts other than procreative ones. In my view, the malign effects of the doctrine leave a residue even today. “
“In the light of the whole direction of my address, you will understand why, at any rate, I favour same sex marriage. I accept that a number of same sex couples do not welcome, or at least do not propose to exercise, a right to marry. A few of them seem even to enjoy the sensation of being outside the mainstream of society and do not wish to feel swept into it. Mae West once said ‘marriage is a fine institution but I ain’t ready for an institution.’ ”
Gay marriage is a positive force which will strengthen rather than weaken the institution of marriage he asserts.
“In our society marriage will surely never again be that all-consuming imperative aspiration which strikes us as so extraordinary when we read our great 19th century novels. But it is a structure which I definitely would not jettison. Far from destroying marriage, I think that to allow same sex couples into it strengthens it; but in my view the most important benefit of same sex marriage is the symbol that it holds up to the heterosexual community, not forgetting teenagers apprehensively trying to make sense of their own emerging sexuality, that each of the two types of intimate adult love is as valid as the other. The availability of marriage properly dignifies same sex love.”