Conservative plans to strengthen the family
Marriage is a union observed in all cultures, and seems to exist by nature. In the Bible it is portrayed as essential for societal functioning – throughout Scripture, family units, or ‘houses’ are seen as part of the basic building blocks of society. Marriage is an institution that provides stability for a clan and a nation, and is the model used to explain the mystery of Christ’s relationship to the church (Eph 5:25-32). The Church of England ‘affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman’.
It is heterosexual and monogamous.
Perhaps more than at any point in its history, the institution of marriage is being challenged on so many fronts that it is in danger of being perceived simply as part of an old world order. There are concerted attempts to redefine it through government legislation, and challenges to its foundations from movements like female liberation in an era of the declining influence of patriarchy. Many questions still have not been settled on the issues of divorce and remarriage, homosexual marriage, or cohabitation, and these beg further questions about the meaning and value of marriage itself.
After decades of diminution of the status of the family with the consequent increase in family breakdown, an inquiry led by Iain Duncan Smith has concluded that it is indeed the role of the state to support the institution.
The Family Law Review is a product of Mr Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice – which Cranmer believes merits its own government department when the Conservative Party wins power. To make Iain Duncan Smith the Secretary of State for Social Justice may not be consonant with Conservative philosophy, but, like so much is the disjunctive postmodern context, it somehow feels right.
It is certainly right that Iain Duncan Smith - one of the most genuine, hard-working, considerate and compassionate MPs in the House - should be on the Government front bench.
At the heart of the report are tax breaks for married couples and an end of the invidious benefits penalty by which couples are financially better off if they live apart. It presents empirical evidence that marriage is beneficial not only to couples, but also their children, their extended families and also to nation as a whole. Confronting the zeitgeist, the report highlights research suggesting that adults and children in married families are happier and healthier.
Well, of course they are.
It is not good for man to be alone.
But such evidence dare not be presented, for fear of excluding single parents, alienating ‘middle England’ or offending the gay lobby. On marriage and the family, Parliament and political parties have been so afraid of doing the wrong thing that they have ceased to do what is so plainly right.
But the emphasis in the report is not making separation and divorce more difficult, but on a new legal framework designed to promote stable relationships. It is positive and progressive. And so there will be ‘family relationship centres’ to offer advice and support. And Fathers for Justice will be relieved that they have, at last, been heard: they will be granted improved access rights to their children.
And all of this will cost billions – £3bn per annum for the transferrable married couples’ tax allowance alone.
But the report puts the cost of family breakdown at up to £24billion per annum – a colossal £820 for the average taxpayer. There are not only the direct costs of supporting single-parent families or placing children in care, but also indirect impacts on employment, education, health, crime, police and prisons. The moral case for supporting marriage over other less stable units of relationship is unequivocal.
The report concludes that ‘marriage is good for society’.
And the Conservative Party alone has recognised that it is therefore incumbent upon society to value it.