THE Prime Minister
believes in marriage. This should be obvious to anyone who has
followed his arguments in favour of extending marriage to gay
couples. Most people probably agree that marriage is good for
society. If this is so, then it is grim news from the Office of
National Statistics that only half of those who had babies in 2011
were married. If the trend continues downwards, marriage will soon
be a minority choice.
This will harm society:
unmarried parents are far less likely to stay together than the
married. A recent estimate puts the cost of coping with the
fall-out of unmarried parenting and high divorce rates at £40
billion in benefits, and legal and health costs.
Supporting marriage means
taking a stand against other arrangements, and no one is willing to
risk doing that. It is not easy to advocate marriage. Many
politicians and church people are divorced, me included. It feels
hypocritical to beat a drum for the institution that we have
failed. But perhaps it is worse to collude with the indiscriminate
trumpeting of "equality" as the one social virtue by which all
others must be measured.
Equality means that no
lifestyle is to be preferred over any other. All deserve equal
rights, even though not all deliver desirable outcomes. Since the
passage of the gay-marriage Bill through the House of Commons,
there has been a resurgence of the demand for civil partnerships
for heterosexuals - a move that could lead away from the social
stability for which David Cameron has argued.
partnerships would protect the material interests of the
individuals concerned, while not requiring the solemn commitment.
This appeals to those for whom even civil marriage is too
"religious", because it involves promises and a marriage
From the "equality"
standpoint, it does not matter if the costs of this anarchy cripple
the economy even further. It does not matter if the scale of
relationship breakdown causes long-term pain and distress,
especially to children. Equality comes first. But the virtue of
equality is not quite as virtuous as it seems. An equality that
invites individuals to choose a path that harms them, their
children, and society is surely not a virtue, but
This is one issue on
which the Church should have a clear message for the whole of
society. It is a disgrace that the Church has shown so much concern
for its own rights in respect of gay marriage that its plea for the
victims of the equality agenda has gone unheard.
The Revd Angela Tilby is the Diocesan Canon of Christ
Church, Oxford, and the Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser
for the diocese of Oxford.