“Save marriage”, says Sir Paul Coleridge, “from the destructive scourge” of divorce and family breakdown.
Baroness Butler-Sloss, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Baroness Deech and Baroness Shackleton have joined him in his quest. Iain Duncan Smith also chips in from the government bench, that ‘more should be done’ to prevent family breakdown.
At a time of rising divorce statistics it is understandable that concern should be expressed in such a visible way. Yes, children are better off with two loving and committed parents rather than a broken home and the principal or sole care of just one. But how, if at all, will Sir Paul’s campaign change the picture?
As a society, should we be pressing married parents of children to stay together? Do we make getting divorced a more difficult task? Should we be advocating marriage as the cornerstone of family life? What do we say to the childless spouses who contemplate separation, or will they have separate rules?
More importantly, is it right that those with a loving, fulfilling and solid marriage should be setting the bar for those who have not been so blessed? Or does the argument revolve around the ‘personal discipline’ of laying in beds we ourselves have made?
The problem probably rests, not with a social culture, but the simple fact that often the natural instinct of many men and women is one of serial monogamy. It is said that this arises from genetics rather than culture: more the consequence of ‘being’ rather than the effect of ‘Facebook’.
As a ‘family lawyer’ I will not be joining Sir Paul’s team. Whilst my professional experience brings me into contact with spouses whose relationship has become dysfunctional, I frequently meet people who should never have married each other, or even anyone at all. Some spouses simply contaminate their relationships, and the presence of children cannot justify maintaining the union. On the other hand, second, or even subsequent marriages or unmarried relationships can be extraordinarily successful and productive, both for the spouses and their children.
For my part, I have less regard for the social philosopher – than for those who realistically address the frail human condition. To encourage pre-separation counselling is one thing, but to opine on the sanctity or priority of marriage is quite another. Some cultures have tried it, and they end up stoning their perpetrators.
Perhaps we should be taking the myth out of marriage. Rather than encouraging ‘the wedding-dress romance’, we should counsel a realistic view of marriage from the start. Better to discourage than to espouse. Healthier to emphasise the discipline, restraint and sacrifice that marriage may require, than to emblazon it as ‘the Gold Standard’.