Even if the Marriage Foundation were right, they’d still be wrong

Family Law|January 13th 2016

I’ve spoken here before about the Marriage Foundation. To recap for the benefit of those who have not heard of it, the Foundation was established in 2012 with the aim of championing marriage, which it considers is the best way to achieve “healthy stable relationships”. In particular, the Foundation believes that parents who do not marry are more likely to separate, thereby diminishing the wellbeing and life chances of their children.

From time to time the Foundation produces research and reports to back up its position. For example, in November 2014 it produced a report which alarmingly warned of the “Bleak prospects for teens who never marry”. Of course, one has to take with a pinch of salt research and reports which support the position of those who commissioned them, but in any event the simple fact is that the evidence does not support their position. As I explained here in an earlier post, the question of whether children born to married parents have improved life chances was investigated by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, which prepared a report and an update in 2010 and 2011. They found that children born to married parents do, indeed, “achieve better cognitive and social outcomes, on average, than children born into other family forms, including cohabiting unions”. However, their research indicated that this is simply due to the fact that more affluent and better educated couples were more likely to get married – they found “little or no evidence that marriage itself has any effect on children’s social or cognitive development”.

As to the issue of marriage being a more stable relationship than cohabitation, that proposition is easily debunked. As I have also said here before, as a generalisation (to which there are exceptions, as we will see below) the simple fact is that the ‘type’ of people who marry are obviously the ‘type’ who are more likely to remain together. Longevity of relationships has nothing to do with whether or not the parties signed a marriage certificate.

But even if the Marriage Foundation was right in its basic propositions, it would still be quite wrong in pursuing its evangelical crusade in the way that it does.

A cursory glance at the Foundation’s website suggests that they see their role as mainly advisory, spreading the good word and helping the sinners who contemplate divorce to see the error of their ways. For example, we are told that they “aim to promote wider and earlier access to relationships support and education” and “better public understanding of the nature and benefits of marriage”. However, one does not have to dig too deeply to find a different picture emerging.

For example, we are also told that:

“Governments cannot legislate stronger relationships into existence. Ultimately, more stronger [sic?] and longer-lasting marriages will be a product of our individual choices, behaviour and culture. The Marriage Foundation will seek to influence the way individuals, couples and society as a whole think about forming, maintaining and ending relationships.”

Note the aim to influence society.

So, far from just having a primarily advisory aim, the Foundation clearly seeks to impose their views upon others. Of course, they cannot do this entirely by themselves, so they do it also by attempting to influence government policy. A quick look through the news section of their website confirms this, for example supporting the government policy of tax breaks for married couples and the Prime Minister’s promise of a ‘family test’ for policies, provided that it explicitly supported marriage, not both married and cohabiting couples, as envisaged by David Cameron.

This is the problem: the Foundation don’t just want to support marriage, they want to influence people’s behaviour, imposing their views upon society. This ‘we know best’ attitude is not just condescending it also seeks to restrict the basic freedom to choose what type of relationship a couple enter into, by legislating against the wrong type of relationships, making them less favourable. All types of relationship should be treated equally.

There also seems to be an unspoken assumption that couples choose not to marry ‘for the wrong reasons’. This completely fails to understand that many people choose not to marry not because they can’t be bothered, or because they don’t want to commit to one another, but because they simply don’t believe in the institution of marriage (this is the exception to which I referred above). There should be no compulsion to comply with certain ‘norms’, just because a section of society consider those norms to be best.

I don’t of course have any problem with any person or organisation holding a different view to my own (even if they are mistaken). What I do object to, however, is when they seek to force those views upon others. That, by any measure, is clearly wrong.

Photo by Russ Garcia via Flickr

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  1. Luke says:

    John, I find it deeply ironic that you say this:
    “This ‘we know best’ attitude is not just condescending it also seeks to restrict the basic freedom to choose what type of relationship a couple enter into…”
    – which is very reasonable – and yet you STILL want to force cohabiting people who have not signed any contract into a form of ‘marriage’ by legislating so that you can control their lives in the courts should they choose to separate.
    Cohabiting people know what to do if they want to add those legal ties and lose control of their own destiny should they break up, they can get married.

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