Paul Coleridge speaks at the launch of Marriage Week at
the Palace of Westminster on February 6th. Also shown
is Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the Finchley Synagogue.
Picture credit: www.dave-kane.com
House of Commons, 6 February 2012
It is truly exciting to be allowed to take part in this event which, year on year, gathers more momentum, excites more interest and claims more notice. I am sure that the rationale for marriage week is identical to one of the main aims of our proposed Marriage Foundation. Namely the need to constantly articulate the case for marriage in the face of those who would constantly try to publicly rubbish it or insidiously undermine it.
However, it is surely worthy of comment that there is a need nowadays for a specific week in the year to enable the profile to be given an annual boost and, by the same token, a need for an independent foundation to act as a permanent and central meeting place for support.
Marriage Week. A Marriage Foundation. Even 30 years ago (and certainly 40) the idea that the oldest social arrangement known to the human race needed to be justified on its merits would have been regarded as laughable. If one had suggested such a thing one would have been labelled hysterical. No one would have questioned for a moment that marriage was the central bastion of civilised (or indeed uncivilised) societies worldwide. Wherever human life has been found, marriage in the sense of a public act of commitment in some form or other has existed as the core unit. But that assumption, I suggest, simply cannot be taken for granted any longer. Along with almost every other institution which we, as a nation, have always taken for granted, (even dare I say it the monarchy), marriage has to articulate its case for survival and win the argument on its own intrinsic merits and not by virtue, purely, of the fact that it has been around a long time, seems like it is an attractive part of our traditional way of life and so has some kind of divine right to survive (and anyway everyone likes a good English summer wedding).
And this need to stand up and be counted and to put the case for its survival, is by no means all bad. Indeed it is very invigorating and we should not be feel threatened or frightened to engage in the debate or frightened into silence for fear of being branded out of date. It forces those of us who would support it to stand up and be counted and to think in depth why marriage is indeed the best model and so should be championed and helped to grow and, where necessary, redefine itself. Nothing like a bit of persecution to wake people up and consider their position. Many institutions have been forced to do the same. I think of the Bar which I joined in 1970. An institution convinced of its right to survive unchanged and unmodernised for ever. As a result of the challenge to its old practices and rules over the intervening decades it is now leaner, fitter and stronger than ever. Along the way it has changed, in many respects out of all recognition. It has forced it to re evaluate its core purpose and values and having done so it goes forward from a position of re-established strength. That is but one example. Many other key parts of our society have had to do the same. These old institutions did not come into existence in the first place by chance but because there was a need for them. They fulfilled a purpose . But many collected baggage along the way and lost sight of their real purpose and function.
So if marriage has to engage in the debate, I say bring it on. Whenever the merits are properly articulated and attractively presented it wins the arguments by miles and hands down. The statistics are nowadays tested to destruction, freely available and incontrovertible, however much its detractors find this unpalatable.
So that is why we are in the latter stages of the formation of The Marriage Foundation which we aim to launch in April. We aim to be the central and national voice of marriage putting the case whenever and wherever necessary. Its great strength will be that it will be entirely non party political and not affiliated or connected with any particular religious grouping. Of course, understandably most religious organisations support our aims, and obviously we welcome that, but this is not a moral crusade. That is for the churches and religious leaders. No, our case for marriage is based on a pragmatic evaluation of the advantages to individuals especially children, families, and the local and national community. In short we simply cannot afford the financial and human cost of family breakdown and championing marriage as the gold standard for human relationships is where we have to start. £44bn per annum is regarded as a reliable estimate of the cost. 3.8m children are to a greater or lesser extent caught up in the family justice system (which I inhabit as the environment for my day job).
And so our core aims are very simple: to increase the rate of marriage and reduce the rate of divorce. We will do that by a sustained and intelligent campaign of persuasion and developing a web site which will provide everything any individual or couple would want to know about marriage, eg, the statistical case, its advantages and where to look for support before marriage and after marriage, in both good times and times of crisis.
Finally let me emphasise what we are not. We are not, as I have said, a moral crusade intending to pronounce judgement on those who do not agree with us. And undoubtedly there will be many who do not. We are not saying that that those who make a sustained commitment to one another outside marriage are in some way inferior or their children prejudiced. We are not out to knock single mothers. We are not going to be a cosy club for the smug, self satisfied and self righteous of middle England who have managed to make their marriages work. We are not saying and have never said that every marriage must be held together at whatever cost. Divorce is sometimes unavoidable. But we do say where possible “mend it, don’t end it”, and we do say look at the facts and figures and the case becomes overwhelming.
If you look at our brochure you will see that out logo is an Arch. It is on all three pages. Why an arch? The arch is probably one of the oldest architectural features in the world. It comes in every shape and size and can be very beautiful when well designed and built. Arches are to be found one way or another in every building. They usually joins together two inherently unstable structures; the two pillars on either side. But when an arch joins the two sides the whole becomes immeasurable and inherently stronger and in times of serious instability (eg, during an earthquake) one is advised to stand under a well constructed arch as it is likely to be the safest place and last longest. We think that those features amongst others neatly encapsulate the best features of healthy marriage and The Marriage Foundation intends to advocate their advantages relentlessly.