Labour’s “pathological” refusal to endorse marriage as the key to tackling family breakdown has drawn fire from Conservative leader David Cameron.
Children’s Secretary Ed Balls said at the weekend that children’s welfare is not necessarily best protected through marriage, but instead through “stable and lasting relationships between parents”.
Seizing on the comment, David Cameron slammed Labour’s “pathological inability to recognise that marriage is a good thing”.
He said that “evidence shows marriage is a good institution which helps people stay together, and commit to each other. A society that values marriage is a good and strong society.”
Traditionalists are cautious about Mr Cameron’s promotion of marriage because he wants to extend the same benefits to same-sex civil partnerships.
Ed Balls insists that there is no superiority in marriage. He told Sky News what he was “not willing to do is say to the many different types of families all around the country that they are second class if they’re not married.”
Ed Balls has chosen marriage in his own life and believes that marriage is “very important” for his three children. He is married to his Cabinet colleague Yvette Cooper.
Earlier this year a new study found that choosing to cohabit rather than marry can more than double a woman’s risk of becoming a single mother by the time her child reaches five years of age.
The study was based on 15,000 mothers and featured in a collection co-edited by Harry Benson of the Bristol Community Family Trust.
In September the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, called for greater support for marriage. He pointed to marriage being “devalued” and said “the impact upon young people is incalculable”.
In June a leading family judge, Mr Justice Coleridge, warned that marriage urgently needed to be reaffirmed as the “gold standard” of relationships. He said an “epidemic” of family breakdown was damaging children.
The Conservatives have pledged to recognise marriage in the tax system and abolish the couple penalty in the benefits system.
Mr Cameron has said that this policy would also apply to same-sex couples in civil partnerships. In February he suggested that same-sex civil partnerships are no different from marriage.