Monday, June 19, 2006

Marriage revisited: reform, retain or replace?

Ahileback, I posted on marriage and the Law Commissions proposals. The Pedant-General in Ordinary made a few comments that challenged my views. I typed a reply, but Blogger kept eating it, so I saved it meaning to get back to it. I forgot. So, rather than post it now, given his was a good comment, I thought I'd put the debate back on the front page.
Exactly what is wrong with marriage as traditionally defined, such that it is not the answer?
The large number of people having kids and living outside of it should answer that one. Marriage, it seems, has an image problem. It's too associated with religion, and costs are high at beginning and end. If marriage is to be the norm, it must be seen as relevent. Currently, it's not, to a large number of people.
Kids are for life, not just for Christmas.
Oh, right. I'm 31, my parents happen to still be together. If they'd split up, say, ten years ago, would I be any worse off now? Kids are for 18 years, after that, they're adults. If I thought my parents weren't happy together now, to find they were still together for my sake, after I've moved out completely? No thanks. In addition, I'm personally in contact with a few relationships which have arrangements designed around the children, but aren't themselves monogamous marriage. "split houses" and similar; it can work, well, and is much better than divorce &c.

I'd rather see two people commit to raising kids properly, but not necessarily live together the whole time, than see two people try to stay together and divorce while the kids are still kids.
not if you are going to have - or risk having - children. The purpose of marriage is to bring forward and expose the protagonists to the reality and seriousness of the commitment BEFORE children appear on the scene.
Maybe. Maybe it was, maybe it is, maybe it should be. But many many people don't think that way. Maybe that's a bad thing, maybe society is adapting and evolving to a new perspective. Maybe the desire to "protect marriage" is preventing the desire to reform it in such a way as it's perceived as relevent to people planning to, or accidentally managing to have, kids.
That successive governments have done their level best to undermine marriage as an institution - an error to which we can pin much of the breakdown of social order in general - is a damning indictment of government, not of the institution of marriage.
Maybe. But, y'see, that horse has already bolted. Divorce Act was passed way before I was born. Given that, effectively, the battle is lost, marriage (or something else), needs to be made relevent again.

Personally, redefining it, stating the objectives, removing the religious element; that's a pile of sensible objectives.

Giving couples expecting kids a half way house that they can sign up to quickly, establishing legal rights and responsibilities to the kids (not each other necessarily) would be a good thing.
That's what I think. But I'm old-fashioned like that.
I'm not. I'm a reformist. If it's stopped working (which it has), fix it. If it's possible to fix it by returning to exactly what was, great. But in this case, I don't think it is.

To clarify; I'm not opposed to marriage, but I know from experience that increasingly people are not inclined to marry, even if they have kids. Given the legal rights non-married fathers have (ie, very few), that's something I plan to avoid if I ever have any. But I don't, personally, like the connotations of marriage in it's traditional sense. I'd rather a contract of some sorts that set out permanent rights and responsibilities (ie to kids and their financial support), but also did not require a permanent commitment to the partner. Supporting kids is one thing, continuing a doomed relationship is another.

Anyone else have strong views on the subject? Is marriage something that Govts and sociey shoudl return to as the norm, is it completely unnecessary, or should a middle ground be found? If so, is my proposal something you could relate to?
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Anonymous said...

As a norm? No. I think the institution still exists and will continue to, though.

As you said, I know a good many people who are not willing to marry - usually as a result of bad experiences through childhood of divorces and the like. One woman I know will not marry out of feminist principle. However, I could probably point out a whole bunch of others who do not have strong views on the subject and will probably marry anyway, as a way of solidifing a long-term relationship.

I don't think you should penalise either. The advantages of being married in law should be kept, but co-habiting couples should also be able to share them. I'm a strong believer in social policy following society, not the other way around. Policies designed to experiment on the population have a habit of being unpopular, and are usually unworkable. 

Posted by Snooo

Anonymous said...

I've never quite been able to tell why it's anyone else's business if two people want to be together. Why should God or the government have to give their approval? There are exceptions - my case, with a non-British, non-EU missus, being a prime example - where the state has a certain right to get interested, but otherwise?

Kids-wise, however, I can see some justification for legally-binding obligations between parent and child. But the idea that marriage is a preparation for kids is utter nonsense. While co-habiting is a preparation for marriage, marriage is a preparation for nothing whatsoever - it's simply a confirmation that you've found someone you think you want to spend the rest of your life with. Kids are an unfortunate byproduct, and it's normally the advent of children that ruins marriages, as they utterly and forever alter the dynamics of the relationship.

The best way to tell if you're ready for kids is not marriage - it's buying a dog. 

Posted by Nosemonkey

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but who would want a dog? You do, of course, have the advantage on me, I'm close to becoming a "confirmed bachelor" the way things are going...

I'm pretty sold on Natalie's idea (linked in previous post) of short term contracts that are renewable, makes a lot of sense to me. Kids need protection, and a lot of unmarried fathers have no idea (at all) that they've got almost zero rights, but many responsibilities. That's got to be wrong.

Snoo, essentially agree completely, I know confirmed marrieds (my deputy at work, very happily married since last August, now expecting their first) to completely confirmed "it's a tool of the patriarchy" feminists. What right have I to proscribe their behaviour? Much better to give them some relevent options and let them get on with it. 

Posted by MatGB