A New Crusade for Marriage?

Posted on January 11, 2012


The first working day of the New Year is known by divorce lawyers as ‘Divorce Day’ or ‘D Day’ due to the abnormally high number of people enquiring about a divorce. It is said that the prolonged amount of time that a married couple spend together over Christmas creates a great deal of strain, leading not a few to consider divorce. On the same day, rather fittingly, the High Court Judge, Sir Paul Coleridge, announced the creation of a new body, to be known as The Marriage Foundation. Sir Paul is the one of the most senior members of the judiciary focusing on family law.

Lord Justice Coleridge’s position affords him an unusually deep exposure to family breakdown. The immense pain and suffering endured by both the separating couple, and more particularly their children, he observes on a daily basis. He declared: ‘My focus is on the children. I am unashamedly advocating marriage as the gold standard for couples where children are involved. I desperately want to avoid a moral crusade.’ The stated aim of the new body is to take a ‘practical’ approach to the issue by using data taken from known and specially commissioned research to show the damage caused by divorce. This is intended to deter couples from proceeding to divorce. The Foundation will also propose marrying only when a relationship is stable, and having children only when married.

Jennie Bristow, writing on the Prospect magazine blog, takes issue with the Lord Justice’s desire to ‘avoid a moral crusade’. She cannot understand how it is possible to argue for marriage without reference to the moral nature of marriage. As marriage is more than a mere social contract between two individuals there is a need to argue for the moral good ensuing, brought about by marriage. The blog post concludes: ‘That means tempering lawyerly “practicalities” with a belief in the power of love and the virtue of commitment, and engaging in moral debates rather than instrumental exhortations to “recycle your rubbish, but be very slow to recycle your partner”.’

Lord Justice Coleridge’s initiative should be welcomed. Divorce, regardless of the numbers actually resorting to it, damages the fabric of society. The former husband and wife come out of divorce as damaged individuals. Often depression, loneliness or addiction appear in either or both. The loss of a stable family home has a deep effect not only upon the former couple but also upon their children, and perhaps even other family members. The Foundation’s desire to promote perseverance within marriage is welcome, but it is also good to find it promoting marriage as the natural place for childbirth.

Jennie Bristow does, however, have a valid point. If marriage is not merely a social contract, it cannot be adequately advocated only with data and ‘practicality’. It is a special bond developed between a man and a woman, a statement of a profound union of one with the other. The term ‘moral crusade’ is often used negatively by commentators who conjure up an image of nanny-like individuals haranguing and judging others. This is perhaps why Lord Justice Coleridge has explicitly disavowed any such approach. Raw facts and figures that prescind from a moral framework may indeed illuminate convincingly issues such as the social cost of family breakdown. However, this will ignore the proper meaning of morality, of principles of right and wrong. Surely we do need to define how and why a particular thing may be referred to as ‘good’ in the context of human society.  There is definitely need to argue for the moral as well as the practical in underpinning the foundation-stone of society.