Marriage needs shoring up, not just tax breaks: columnist

Marriage must be “shored up and protected” with more than just tax breaks in order to halt a breakdown in moral and social behaviour, a national newspaper columnist has written.

Melanie Phillips said the erosion of marriage is key to the “disintegration” of the family and wider society, and that the only solution is to protect the institution with “a web of formal and informal laws, conventions and attitudes”.

Writing in the Daily Mail, she commented that marriage was dismissed as “just a piece of paper” in the 1960s and ’70s and from then on “everything conspired to reduce its significance to precisely that”.

She continued: “The courts removed the concept of fault from divorce and thus emptied marriage of duty and accountability, causing the rate of divorce to shoot up.”

She added that the “informal attitudes protecting marriage” such as the taboos surrounding sex outside marriage, illegitimacy, and cohabitation, were struck down, on the basis “that nothing should interfere with the individual’s ‘right’ to do whatever he or she pleased”.

The columnist wrote: “With its spiritual and emotional meaning so undermined, marriage became reduced to little more than a contract of expediency.”

And so now, she concluded, in order to revive the “moral order” marriage needs to be “shored up”.

She added that the Conservatives’ pledge to recognise marriage in the tax system “has to be part of a far broader attempt to restore moral order”.

“This can’t be restored until marriage is properly supported by removing both incentives and approval for extramarital sexual relationships and by putting fault back into divorce”, she continued.

The commentator also put forward wide ranging solutions which she said would help to fix society.

She wrote: “It can’t be restored unless there is zero tolerance of all drug use.

“It can’t be restored unless welfare dependency is stopped dead in its tracks and a distinction made once again between responsible behaviour, which should be rewarded, and irresponsible behaviour, which should not.”

Melanie Phillips ended by saying that the way Britain responds to these issues will determine how the country emerges in the years to come.

Just last month the importance of marriage for the welfare of children was demonstrated in a new report.

The results of the report, released by the Bristol Community Family Trust, showed that only three per cent of couples who stay together until their child is 15 are unmarried and most cohabiting couples either get married or split up.

The findings dispelled the myth of stable long-term cohabitation and suggested that “the trend away from marriage is responsible for the rise in family breakdown”.

The report’s findings were taken from Britain’s largest and most up-to-date family surveys.

Recent fierce political debate on family policy prompted the new report.

Labour Families Secretary Ed Balls says that marriage is “very important” for his three children but claims children’s welfare is not necessarily best protected through marriage.

Speaking on the BBC’s Today Programme recently, Mr Balls insisted: “Once you adjust for the fact that people who are married tend to marry older, be better educated and have higher incomes, you find it is not the legal form, it is the strength and stability of the relationship which is the most important thing.”

But the author of the new report, Harry Benson, contested this claim.

“It doesn’t matter how rich or well educated you are, cohabiting parents are at least twice as likely to split up as married parents of similar income or education”, Mr Benson said.

Related Resources