Written evidence submitted by Rev James Pennington [HAB0127]


The Pitfalls of Allowing Cohabiting Couples the Same Rights as Married Couples

I hope these thoughts will be helpful, though I'm sure they've been made by many others.

All studies and evidence show clearly that the best structure for the family, esp for the happiness and good outcomes for children in development, education, career progression and general well-being is in a stable family home, with married parents. Why does the married aspect make a difference? Stability and longevity. The breakdown of parental relationships is not only damaging to the adults, their respective families who then struggle to keep contact with their grandchildren, nieces, nephews etc, but also does damage to the life chances of those children. Sadly also, those children are more likely to be involved in such family breakdowns themselves in their own adult life.
All of this leads to more suffering and heartache as well as damage to all kinds of measurements of progress in life, despite, of course, the very best efforts of parents in such difficult circumstances. It is not any insult to hard-working single parents to acknowledge the realities about the impact of parental relationship breakdown or raising children without a life partner. Of cohabiting couples, a full half have split up by the time their eldest child is five years old. We must acknowledge that this is not a celebration of relationship freedom, but a disaster for those involved and society more widely, and for the Exchequer also, in a variety of ways.

The question of rights for cohabiting couples is resolved by two means. Firstly the choice is made by such couples NOT to combine their assets, and indeed many may wish it that way. We should not force couples to be de facto married by virtue of them living together, and what would constitute 'living together' anyway? A clear demarcation is required. Consequently we should surely encourage deliberate commitment via the institution of marriage, with all that entails.

Secondly, keeping the law as it is, we must make it clear that cohabitation does not entitle those involved to any rights akin to marriage or civil partnership. It makes no sense to change a law merely to avoid explaining it properly.

Let a Conservative govt be conservative, as many of us voted for it to be. Defend marriage. It has taken many hits over the years; being redefined, civil partnerships as a kind of marriage-lite, and so forth. For all the dangers of that latter issue, civil partnerships for any couple do at least offer a way for couples to make commitments without whatever negative connotation they may feel marriage entails. Even less a reason then to make cohabitation an even lighter form of marriage, entered into without consent.

June 2021