Michael Gove: the decline of marriage is bad for us all
Marriage is fast becoming a policy exclusion area. As Labour’s Tom Harris MP has found (to which Cranmer shall probably turn his attention tomorrow), the moment one articulates an orthodox view of this most natural of institutions, one is pilloried for excluding gays, abusing one-parent families, condemning the co-habiting or being a throw-back to a bygone era.
Yet Michael Gove has spelt out his ‘progressive' view of marriage:
‘Why should adults be corralled into an institution invented by a church in which a majority no longer believe? Why should the personal have to become public? Why should the million different shapes that love can take be forced into the Victorian corset of mouldy vows and mildewed sentiments? Since most couples live together before they marry, and therefore few these days believe that bridal white reflects virginal purity, why go through a charade just to please parents, when the cash could pay for a new kitchen instead?
‘Given the strength, and gathering force, of this trend, who would dare stand against it? Who would want to be a Holy Willie, twitching and frothing at what young people get up to these days, seeking to apply the morality of a judgmental and prejudiced past in these, more liberal and tolerant, times?
‘But if no one points out the consequences of the marginalisation of marriage, then some of the most vulnerable in our society will be voiceless. For the drift away from marital commitment is part of a broader flight from responsibility which is weakening our society and hitting the poorest, hardest. Marriage is a constraint, it is a restriction on freedom, a corset or corral in which passions which would otherwise run free are subject to disciplines, and personal satisfaction is subordinated to social expectations. But the reason marriage imposes those constraints is to ensure that selfish adults, especially pleasure-seeking males, are placed within a structure which forces them to live up to their responsibilities towards the next generation. 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.
‘Children become mature when they grasp the principle of deferred gratification, the idea that greater prizes accrue to those who are prepared to work, wait and share than to those who wish to eat, shoot and leave. 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.
‘These nouns may be abstract, but the problems created by the collapse of commitment are not. 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. In a sober, entirely pragmatic way they point out that the absence of responsible male role models has a direct effect on the behaviour of the children.
‘One of the most striking failures of Government over the last 10 years has been the inability of ministers to promote social mobility and make our society more equal. Improving education is crucial to helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve their potential. But making schools better isn't enough, as any teacher will tell you. The early years matter hugely, and children deserve the care of both the adults who brought them into this world...
‘If we're all reviewing our economic perspectives in the wake of the credit crunch, shouldn't we also extend that same process to our most intimate concerns? Shouldn't we see personal relations less through the prism of celebrating freedom and maximising pleasure and more as a means of growing through sharing? Support for marriage should actually be a cause behind which progressives rally. We may promise to wed for richer, for poorer, but we all live in an impoverished society if more and more people choose to put me before we.’
At the Conservative Party conference, Maria Miller MP, shadow minister for the family and one of Michael Gove's team, announced a new policy:
‘Most young couples now get married in a civil ceremony. Unlike a church wedding, there is no tradition of pre-marriage preparation for couples marrying at a registry office. We want that to change. We want local registrars to start signposting couples to pre-marital education as a matter of routine. The Local Government Association who co-ordinate the role of wedding registrars, agree and I am pleased to say that they (are) putting forward this policy so that every young couple getting married will be made aware of the benefits they would get from relationship support at this critical point in their life. In the US, couples who have this type of pre-marriage education are a third less likely to divorce. We want this type of support for couples to be routine in Britain too.’
This is now a wholly necessary intervention and an urgent necessity, the strengthening of which must become a manifesto commitment. Educating betrothed couples and future parents is the only solution to the increasing dysfunctionalism which is proving so detrimental to society: the key to educating children is to educate their parents about commitment, constraint, discipline, sacrifice and love – the core essence of the marriage relationship.