We’ve all seen that the world didn’t end when gay marriage was introduced. To be slightly less facetious, no wedded heterosexual couples found their marriage weakened by the nuptials of gay couples. Absurd as it may now seem, the latter of those suggestions was, of course, a genuine objection put forward by some of those who opposed gay marriage. It is just one of a group of objections to family law reform generally, along the lines that the reform will either damage the institution of marriage, or create something new that is less stable than marriage.
But the fact that such objections have been demonstrated to be without substance has not stopped their proponents from continuing to peddle them. For example, they have been raised in connection with all of the following proposed family law reforms:
- No fault divorce:
Back in the 1990s the government actually did pass a no-fault divorce law, contained in the Family Law Act 1996, although the law was never brought into effect. I remember when that was being debated we had all the arguments that no fault divorce would make divorce easier and therefore more people would get divorced, hence marriage would be weakened. Those arguments were recently reprised in parliament by Sir Edward Leigh MP, who opposed David Bacon MP’s no fault divorce bill on the erroneous basis that it would increase the number of divorces.
- Civil partnership for all, as eloquently expounded by Marilyn Stowe last week:
When this was raised in the Civil Partnership Review back in 2014, one of the main objections was that it would create a two-tier system based on the assumption that civil partnership entails a lesser degree of commitment and is less stable than marriage.
- Property rights for cohabitees:
Again, a major objection to this was that it would undermine marriage by giving cohabitees the same rights as married couples, and therefore acting as a disincentive to marriage. The reality, of course, is that none of the proponents of property rights for cohabitees have suggested that they should be given anything like the same rights as married couples.
Contrary to what some would have you believe, changes such as these will not precipitate disaster.
All are seen as some sort of attack upon marriage (either directly or indirectly), that will weaken it by undermining its stability or by attracting couples to a lesser form of commitment, but of course these things never happen, and never were going to happen. People don’t get divorced on a whim simply because divorce is easy, and the strength of relationships does not rely upon whether a certain law has been passed. It really makes one wonder whether those peddling such tales of disaster really believe them, or whether perhaps they are just using them as a scaremongering smokescreen to avoid mention of their own prejudices against gays/ cohabitation etc.
The problem is that often the hawkers of such objections shout the loudest and their objections are regularly taken up by the popular media, completely skewing (hijacking?) the debate and relegating the real issues to something secondary.
We need to raise the level of debate. Civil partnership for all, no fault divorce and property rights for cohabitees are important issues that should not be dragged down by scaremongering and prejudice. I’m not saying that we should silence the critics of reform, just that we should jettison the bad arguments that distract from the real issues. Expel those matters from the debate and it may just become clear to all that those reforms are for the benefit of society, and will not, after all, trigger the end of the world as we know it.