Turning our backs on marriage will deprive children of stability and teach them to be selfish, says shadow families secretary Michael Gove.
Marriage provides children with an example of “responsibility, restraint and consideration for others”, argued the Conservative MP in an article for Scotland on Sunday.
While the Conservative Party has pledged to support marriage, leader David Cameron has said this will include same-sex civil partnerships.
Mr Gove prompted criticism last year after asserting that the Party was wrong to oppose same-sex civil partnerships and gay adoption, describing these things as “right and moral”.
But in his article he says the current “drift away from marital commitment is part of a broader flight from responsibility which is weakening our society and hitting the poorest, hardest”.
He acknowledged that such arguments are unfashionable in “liberal and tolerant” times but said someone had to speak out for the “most vulnerable in society”.
He pointed out the damage done when parents “behave like children”, “abandoning relationships which no longer serve their purposes”.
This robs children of “stability and security” leaving them unable to cope properly at school and contributing to social inequality.
“The early years matter hugely, and children deserve the care of both the adults who brought them into this world,” he said.
“Support for marriage should actually be a cause behind which progressives rally.”
His article is at odds with comments from fellow shadow cabinet member Ken Clarke, who recently labelled tax incentives to support marriage as “social engineering”.
In his article, Mr Gove writes: “A society which expects men to stay married to the mother of their children is a society which places a premium on providing young boys with male role models who embody the virtues of responsibility, restraint and consideration for others.”
But when “adults behave like children, seeking instant gratification of their desires, abandoning relationships which no longer serve their purposes in pursuit of new, more intense, pleasure they leave children in their wake who have been deprived of the most valuable of inheritances – stability and security in which to grow to maturity.”
He continues: “When I visit primary schools I am struck by how often headteachers point to the increasing numbers of children who, aged five, are incapable of sitting still and listening, who have not learnt how to communicate even basic thoughts and grow frustrated, even violent, when their needs aren’t met.”
“The heads I talk to bracket the growth in the numbers of children arriving at school with these disadvantages with the decline in the number of households where both the birth parents still live together.”
Mr Gove pointed out the difficulty of pointing out these things in “liberal and tolerant” times, asking: “Given the strength, and gathering force, of this trend, who would dare stand against it?”
“But”, he warned, “if no one points out the consequences of the marginalisation of marriage, then some of the most vulnerable in our society will be voiceless.”