Marriage offers by far the best chances for raising children in today’s society. That was the clear message from several leading British citizens this week at the launch of Britain’s National Marriage Week in the Houses of Parliament.
National Marriage Week runs annually over the week prior to Valentine’s Day, February 14. Former YWAMer Richard Kane began NMW eleven years ago to highlight the importance of healthy marriages to the welfare of British society. From the start it has been supported by members of parliament. Over the years it has received wide coverage in the secular press.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was joined at this years launch by Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, and actress/broadcaster/writer Anne Atkins, among others.
But it was the former leader of the Opposition, Iain Duncan Smith-also known in political circles as The Quiet Man-who surprised the invited audience. His passionate presentation of statistic after statistic argued that there was no substitute for heterosexual marriage as the foundation for modern society.
“Marriage is the best device to cement society and to make us less selfish,” he insisted. “It’s the only structure on which the whole of society can stand.”
Seven out of ten young offenders came from single parent families, he reported. Teenage sexual activity was much higher among children from broken homes. Child abuse was also much more prevalent in families where the parents were not married. Abused children in turn were very likely to become abusers themselves.
Today, he said, nearly every second child was born to unmarried couples, compared to only one in eight in 1980. The real rise in ‘family’ breakdown, he explained, happened among partners who had never made any legal commitment. Half of such partnerships dissolved before their first child was five years old.
Women from broken unmarried partnerships suffered an average income loss of 18%, compared to a rise of 2% for men who remained scot-free of legal responsibilities.
Agreeing on this point, another speaker later called lone parenthood a new form of women’s enslavement. There was nothing empowering about being left penniless and holding the baby. Yet political correctness had kept marriage off the political agenda to allow equal opportunity for today’s range of choices. In reality, reasoned the speaker, greater inequalities had resulted,
Family breakdown did matter, stressed Duncan Smith. “Go walk the streets!” he urged. “See how young people find their sense of belonging in gangs as alternative families.”
Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice recently produced a 150-page report, ‘Fractured Families’, which summed up the causes of family breakdown in three key words: dissolution, dysfunction and dad-lessness. (Download from www.povertydebate.com).
While Tony Blair had sent a written endorsement of the NMW- “Marriage continues to play a vital role in the health and strength of our society; it is good to have a chance to recognise and reflect upon its importance”-Duncan Smith challenged the government to grasp the nettle of family breakdown. The benefits of marriage and committed relationships should be made very clear, he asserted.
“What sort of society it,” he asked, “that chases the error instead of getting ahead of it?”
Sir Jonathan Sacks decried the era when many believed society could let go of all restraints. “What a price we’ve paid!” he exclaimed. “Every index of measurement shows that children of marriages have it better.”
Dr Williams, wearing a simple wooden cross, said society today had painfully low expectations about life-long relationships. More ambition and imagination was needed. Marriage was about celebrating commitment, about ‘getting a life’, he said.
National Marriage Weeks are starting this year also in Switzerland and the Czech Republic. YWAMers Paul and Genevieve Marsh from Lausanne were present in London and shared why they were following the British model: “There’s no better way to disciple a nation than through restoring marriages and families!”
Kane, who convenes the Hope for Europe Family and Marriage network, wants to see NMW’s multiplied all across Europe. He invites all interested in starting such weeks to a two-day consultation in Switzerland, March 22&23. He can be contacted through the NMW website: www.nmw.org.uk.
So, the message is clear. Get a life!
Till next week,