December 31, 2013
Marriage is on its deathbed. A tiny tax allowance won’t save it. Nor will benevolent old judges such as Sir Paul Coleridge urging young couples to wed before starting a family.
In fact, Sir Paul of all people should understand what the law has done to marriage. After 1969, in most of the Western world, the marriage vow was legally meaningless.
All those moving promises about ‘for richer, for poorer’, or ‘in sickness and in health’ (let alone ‘till death us do part’) were cancelled by Parliament. From then on, one party to the marriage could end it more easily than you can get out of a car lease.
And if the other spouse resisted, and wanted to stick to the vows he or she had made, he or she could, in the end, be dragged from the family home by the forces of the State backed with the threat of prison.
For the most part (but of course not always), it was men who were compulsorily dumped. The law helped this to happen. It didn’t matter how badly either party behaved. Women increasingly got custody of the children, because they were women.
The same went for the family home. The courts didn’t bother to enforce orders allowing ex-husbands to stay in touch with their children.
Hence Willie Nelson’s bitter joke: ‘I’m not going to get married again. I’ll just find a woman I don’t like and buy her a house.’
In the end, the surviving marriages in our society exist entirely because both parties want them to. The State, the law, the tax system, the schools, the benefits system and our culture offer them no support and plenty of penalties.
And if women wonder why they cannot get men to marry them these days, they just need to check the legal position. It is amazing that so many men still do. The day is coming when the only people in Britain who want to get married will be lesbian clergywomen.
I know you think this is just me being extreme and pessimistic. But it isn’t. One of this country’s finest legal minds, Baroness Hale of Richmond, now sits on our alleged Supreme Court as its Deputy President.
But back in 1982, when she was just the barrister Brenda Hoggett, she wrote prophetically that the efforts of English law to make the sexes more equal had, in fact, destroyed most of the legal privileges of marriage. ‘Family law no longer makes any attempt to buttress the stability of marriage or any other union,’ she wrote.
‘Logically, we have reached a point at which, rather than discussing which remedies should now be extended to the unmarried, we should be considering whether the legal institution of marriage continues to serve any useful purposes.’