LONG-TERM cohabitation does not provide the stability of marriage, says the Mothers’ Union (MU), in response to the latest findings of the British Social Attitudes survey.
The survey, published last week, suggested that two-thirds (66 per cent) of people believed there was little difference socially between being married and living together. Seven in ten of those questioned thought there was nothing wrong with sex before marriage, compared with nearly five in ten (48 per cent) in 1984. Only about one in four (28 per cent) thought married couples made better parents than unmarried ones.
Views became more traditional where children were concerned, the report suggested, especially where less traditional arrangements, such as single or gay parents, were involved. “When [children] are involved, alternative family arrangements are seen as less acceptable,” said Professor Simon Duncan, co-author of the report.
Only about four in ten people (42 per cent) thought one parent could bring up a child as well as two parents. The same percentage of those questioned disagreed with the view that a gay male couple were as capable of being good parents as a man or a woman. But, although nine in ten (90 per cent) thought donor insemination should be allowed for a couple who could not have children naturally, this fell to six in ten (61 percent) in the case of single women.
The report said that half of those questioned (51 per cent) still wrongly believed there was such a thing as “common-law marriage”. Professor Anne Barlow, its co-author, commented: “The myth that there is something called common-law marriage that gives cohabiting couples legal rights lives on, despite the media exposure of the last few years. There is little appetite for maintaining the deep legal division drawn between married and cohabiting families.”
The MU is calling for greater economic and social support for marriage. Its chief executive, Reg Bailey, said: “If the ‘average person’ quoted as opinion-former in the British Social Attitudes survey believes that marriage and cohabitation provide the same degree of stability for adult relationships, for children, and for society, they are being seriously misled.
“We want to stand against media-encouraged expectations of marriage, which depict unrealistic fairytale hopes and peddle a salacious focus on celebrity weddings and marriage breakdowns. We want to help people get real about how relationships need to be worked at.”
Tax benefits for married couples would send a signal that marriage was beneficial to society, says the MU. It is launching a training initiative, Loving for Life, later this year.
Civil partnerships, which became legal in December 2005, had an initial rush during 2006, but fell back last year, according to a survey of 40 councils by the Local Government Association. The trend was confirmed by the Office for National Statistics. Its figures showed that 16,000 couples entered a civil partnership in 2006, and 4060 in the first half of 2007.