Conservatives and Labour are both flunking the marriage test

Free wedding rings on book photo, public domain CC0 image.

An area of policy conspicuously missing from the campaigns of the major parties in this General Election is marriage.

So far, Nigel Farage, while happily admitting failures in his own private life, seems to have grasped just how important marriage is, telling a press conference last week that Reform would like to see British couples have more children and that he would consider offering fiscal support to married couples in recognition of the burden involved.

Just days earlier, the Marriage Foundation, a charity launched in 2012 in response to the epidemic levels of family breakdown, revealed that it has been more than a decade since any Conservative cabinet minister has made a speech that included the importance of marriage.

That was the year the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 came into force, and those speaking about marriage were generally those enthusiastic about its redefinition, such as Theresa May, then the Home Secretary, who declared in the Daily Telegraph that the change in the law would mean “homosexuals will be missionaries to the wider society and make it (marriage) ‘stronger’”.

Ten years on, that hasn’t come to pass: young heterosexual couples are turning away from marriage as never before, with children the most serious casualties of the preference for cohabitation.

One of the most recent studies by the Marriage Foundation has revealed that by the age of 14 years, some 46 per cent of children in the UK today are not living with both natural parents. While a third of these children have experienced the collapse of their parents’ marriages, almost half (46 per cent) have witnessed the separation of parents who were unmarried.

Among teens whose natural parents are still together, the majority of parents are married (84 per cent) with only a small minority unmarried (16 per cent).

The Marriage Foundation maintains that under the Tories family policy was focused on the provision of childcare and encouraging all parents into work instead of supporting marriage, even though the institution is proven to be the most secure for children. Aside from regulatory changes, the Government almost entirely avoids making distinctions between married and cohabiting couples in both tax and benefits systems.

The only remaining financial advantage in getting married was a £252 tax allowance for low-income couples introduced in 2015. This is dramatically offset, however, by a substantial “couple penalty” for low-income couples who stand to lose thousands of pounds in welfare payments if they move in together or marry. Campaigners for marriage have argued that this is a serious barrier to marriage among the poorest which has been completely neglected by politicians and that marriage is increasingly the preserve of the better off.

So why the change? Dr Patricia Morgan, a distinguished sociologist and author, made the opposite prediction to Mrs May at the time the Marriage Bill was going through.
She submitted a 22-page research paper to the Commons which examined the effects of same-sex marriage in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Belgium, Canada and some US states where same-sex marriage has been legalised. It showed that traditional marriage in those jurisdictions was in freefall. She warned MPs that the redefinition of marriage would reinforce the idea that marriage is irrelevant to parenthood, but she was ignored and by 2020, England and Wales saw the number of marriages collapse by 61 per cent, the sharpest fall in any country in Europe.

None of the major parties will support marriage because they are either ideologically opposed to the traditional understanding of the institution or are unable to say what it is without fear of being accused of homophobia.

There are some church leaders, however, who asking voters to press the incoming generation of MPs to take marriages between men and women a little more seriously.

They include the Rt Rev. Mark Davies, the Bishop of Shrewsbury, who said in a homily in Chester this month “research indicates that the single most important factor in a child’s flourishing is the stable relationship of their parents and while this stability is the norm when parents are married, it is the exception when they are not”.

He said: “Recent surveys also indicate most young people in 21st Century Britain still aspire to the enduring faithfulness of marriage, even as we suffer one of the highest rates of family breakdown anywhere in Europe and witness the institution of marriage in near-catastrophic decline.

“Sadly, in public life and policy we have seen a parallel diminishment of the place of marriage, as if it were merely a lifestyle choice rather than the bedrock on which the well-being of the individual and society is bound up. Amid the many choices and challenges faced at a General Election, we cannot hope for families and society to flourish if marriage does not flourish. And while we cannot expect a generation of politicians to resolve so great a crisis, we should expect our elected representatives to have the courage and responsibility to recognise the central place of marriage in securing the good of society and of new generations.”

Simon Caldwell

Simon Caldwell is a journalist and author. For information about his work, please visit: