Written evidence from Mrs Christine Matthews [HAB0248]
For many centuries marriage has been recognised as an important building-block in the creation of societies.
Marriage is a public commitment between 2 people. It can be a large lavish event, or a small private affair with just the requisite 2 witnesses, and either can be before a priest or a registrar. But the one thing they have in common is the importance of the vows the couple make to each other before witnesses. These vows promise a lifelong commitment, which is why the Law makes provision for the death of a spouse
The benefits to society of marriage have long been recognised: physical and mental health issues are lower; fewer married women smoke or use drugs; men’s survival rates from cancer and heart disease are higher. Married parents are more likely to stay together, thus helping their children to grow up into responsible adults.
But there are those who do not want, or see the need, to make this lifelong public commitment of marriage with all the benefits it brings. They prefer to cohabit, ie. live together, for as long as it works for them. But these relationships are transitory and unstable, and also increasingly detrimental to couples, children and society itself.
Over 50% of children who live in such situations experience the separation of their parents before they reach their 5th birthday, compared to only 15% of those whose parents are married. That is an awful lot of unhappiness and confusion in young children, compared to that of children of married parents. This is something I experienced in my teaching career. To encourage such a lifestyle can only lead to disastrous results, as noted above.
Family breakdown is very expensive for society, costing something like £50 billion a year. This could be avoided if the special legal status of marriage is supported and maintained as in previous years.
The Women and Equalities Committee complains that “those who cohabit currently have less legal protection than those who are married.” The reason for this is that those couples who are free to marry have chosen not to.
The Committee also argues that “there is a widespread perception that cohabiting partners have similar or identical rights to those who are married.” This is no reason to change the Law, but rather to make sure that people understand the benefits and privileges – as well as the responsibilities – that marriage brings.
The Government ought to be raising awareness of the benefits of marriage and the legal problems of cohabitation. If they make a fundamental legal change to the Law as they propose, then the lines between the two become blurred.
By offering equivalent rights to those who choose not to be committed, the Government would undermine and devalue the institution of marriage.