Written evidence from Ruth Trump [HAB0262]
My name is Mrs Ruth Trump, and I write as a concerned grandmother. My husband and I feel very strongly that cohabitation is not the same as marriage, and that the government should be supporting marriage and civil partnerships rather than providing legal protections which will encourage more cohabitation.
The basic difference between marriage and cohabitation concerns the public commitment to staying together long-term. The law has always protected marriage, because of the great benefits to adults (and especially children) that flow from stable families. By definition, cohabitation does not involve long-term commitment, and is therefore inherently unstable, often involving a series of shorter-term relationships and separations over time. Defining cohabitation legally would be problematic (how long is long enough for legal protection? And would the same protections be available to every cohabiting partnership over a life time?) In my opinion, it is not a good idea to attempt a legal definition of cohabitation, since those who want the protection of the law are perfectly free to choose to get married or to enter a civil partnership. Plus, the end result of any such legislation would inevitably be that the marriage option becomes less attractive…
We are told that cohabiting couples make up the fastest growing type of family, but I understand that only 1 in 5 couples live together without either being married or in a civil partnership. Given the vastly better outcomes for marriage as opposed to cohabitation, is it right for any government to be passing laws that incentivise cohabitation, which is by definition, a much more unstable family situation?
I recognise that there are some people who strongly object to marriage which they see as oppressive or paternalistic. (In my opinion, they are wide of the mark. No institution is immune to abuse, but marriage has shown its enduring value over millenia, and in many cultures across the world.) But these people already have the option of entering a civil partnership which would give them the same protections as marriage. Can it be right to put in place complicated legal arrangements in order to protect the freedoms of a minority of adults who object to marriage and prefer not to commit themselves?
Separation occurs much more often with cohabiting partners, which is logical, since there is no commitment to, and maybe no intention of staying together long-term. Whilst I feel compassion for those caught in these situations without the protection of the legal framework provided by marriage or civil partnership, the solution is not to simply extend the same rights to all. The effect would be to incentivise cohabitation and at the same time, disastrously disincentivise marriage, which would inevitably result in more family breakdowns, more misery, more mental health issues for adults and children, and more burden on the health service and the public purse. What needs to be done is to launch a campaign to inform cohabitees of the fragility of their situation, and encourage them to move to marriage or civil partnership.
To me, this would only become an equalities issue if there existed a group within society who did not have the automatic right to choose marriage or civil partnership. But as it is, everyone does have that right, and can opt for the better protections of marriage and civil partnerships at any stage. The government should be encouraging couples to move in this direction, rather than watering down the institution of marriage.
Evidence shows very clearly that the best provision for children occurs when the parents have committed themselves to marriage or to a civil partnership. Half of children of cohabiting parents no longer live with both parents by the age of 5, whereas with married parents this is only 15%. On what basis can a government ignore these statistics? It is not compassionate to cohabiting parents and especially their children to create another legal relationship status, effectively discouraging families from committing to marriage, which would give much better outcomes.
No, for the reasons I have already outlined above.