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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 11:47 GMT
Is marriage still relevant?
Fewer people believe couples should get married before starting a family.
The annual survey by the National Centre for Social Research published this week found that in 1989 seven out of 10 people believed children should be born in wedlock, but now only 54% do.
A clear majority (67%) thought cohabitation was acceptable, even if a couple did not intend to get married.
Now that cohabitation is widely accepted as a prelude to marriage - is marriage going out of fashion?
Is marriage still relevant in today's society? Do children need married parents?
This Talking Point was suggested by Debbie F, from the UK. She said:
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This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
So as more people think marriage is increasing irrelevant we see an increase with problems in society, specifically regarding children. Is really that difficult to put 2 and 2 together?
For all those who believe that marriage is just between two people and a piece of paper, 1) The paper has not held those together that don't want to stay together and 2) Once children are added to the family, it is no longer between just two people. Even two stable working parents are not enough to make it work without the help of family, friends and neighbours. I can't imagine the life of a single parent whether by choice, death of a spouse or even one parent travelling all the time. I've lost track of all the favours I have asked from my family and friends for all kinds of situations and I am not even a single parent.
So, maybe signing a paper is not important. But it is important to share the union in some kind of a ceremony with family and friends because they will be part of your lives for more than just a party.
As a Non-Religious, well paid, over taxed Gay Man, I fail to see why my lack of contribution to world over population should result in my subsidising yet more self cloning in the name of the Victorian concept of marriage.
Mark Robinson, Netherlands
As long as the parent or parents are happy it makes no difference if they're married or not. I know from my own experience that I am far happier not being married and therefore a much better mother to my children.
Marriage is an innovation of religion to begin with to save a family, then a tribe, township, city county and country. It fosters strong sense in children to follow the footsteps and benefit from it. Once without marriage, humankind was known as 'barbarians.' Now, we are all known as 'civil.' It is a basic unit of humanity. One cannot count census based on singles without having a household. The sense of 'household' arguably springs out of marriage.
You have to look back at the changes in family habits last century. Family homes were just that, housing multiple generations. Marriage was a prerequisite of the elder generation for couples to live and procreate within their household. Over time, this changed. Having a place of your own (albeit local) became the main objective, but marriage was still very much part of this. Then as job movement allowed couples away from the home base, so family ties became stretched and the family closeness was lost. The additional comfort factor, life experiences and in built security of elders was lost. Marriages built on young, inexperienced lives had no back up, no tolerance, no future. If marriage is what you want it should be based on sound experience of life and relationships and a responsible commitment going forward. Therefore individuals need to get everything out of their system beforehand and make up for the lost cross generation of experience. i.e. don't get married until you are ready for it.
Shane Watts, Utah, USA
Marriage is only as important as the community that surrounds it. Marriage exists as a way of people to put their faith in bonding of two people for the sake of their children and their community. It is not so easy for two people to be committed to each other in times of stress and is a way for people to maintain a bond between each other that bears necessity for the good of a community, being for families, friends and children.
I think that it is important to put your faith in something that will enable you to put your own needs aside for the sake of the children you may be raising or the well-being of the people you live amongst. It can be a religious and/or a social bonding. Saying that we should do away with the idea of marriage would be the same as saying we do not need friendship or family. Be it between the same or opposite sex, or from any type of spiritual or social ideology, it signifies a vow of loyalty and respect for another person, and that you have faith in principles that stand outside of your own needs. I do not think that we are enlightened enough to do away with that.
Cohabitation is a conditional arrangement - "I'll stay if you'll stay".
Marriage has at its heart unconditional promises of permanence and exclusivity - it is unconditional.
Fully put into practice these foundations make for a fundamentally different relationship. Sadly most couples in the UK are never given the opportunity or the relationship skills to live their marriages to the full, instead seeing it as a form of "cohabitation with a launch party!"
Marriage is, and should be, a radical lifestyle choice in the 21st century!
There are still too many people who favour marriage. Although slowly, but surely old beliefs are changing. This phenomenon is triggered by social evolution. No one can stop it.
If marriage were merely one of the many options a modern couple has it would be a fantastic union of love and/or spirituality but when it is a national institution and something that is expected upon people then is it any wonder we have the divorce rates we do? If the traditional married family wasn't promoted as being so superior all the time and the tax benefits were abolished then it would make marriage a thing that people do because it is what they really believe in after weighing up all other options and because they truly love one another. Only then will the credibility return into the concept of marriage and only then will divorce rates fall.
I am engaged to my partner of over 2 years. I do not need a ring on my finger for him to know that I want to spend the rest of my life with him. I do not need a wedding ceremony for others to realise that I have made a commitment to this person. When we have the money for a half decent wedding we will get married, but it is not central to our relationship. Relationships are not about a ceremony, presents and a piece of paper they are about love and caring. I have made a promise to care for my partner come what may and I don't necessarily need a certificate to prove it. However, I do believe that it is time that the Government recognised long standing relationships of couples who are not married in various legal elements of our society today.
What's all this rot about a "legally binding agreement?" Marriage is a divine sacrament, not a human invention. It signifies an objective change in the state of a man and a woman who have entered into a union before God. The law is irrelevant. It cannot define marriage any more than it can define the speed of light, which is a much less real thing. The law can only be modified so that it corresponds as closely as possible to reality.
I'm with those who basically say that it's up to the individual, or the couple in this case. There's no point in being judgemental or even philosophical about this. Whether a couple marries or not is theirs and no one else's business. If it means something to them, by all means let them get married. If it doesn't, you don't have to do it.
In the US I would say that marriage is still very important, at least in terms of a legal contract. Because we are married, my wife is entitled to health insurance from my company and is the automatic beneficiary if anything should happen to me. Personally I take great comfort in the fact that my wife and daughter will be taken care of if I'm no longer around.
All the scientific research suggests that children who are part of a stable, loving family do far better in life psychologically, socially, educationally and even economically, than children in single-parent or unstable families.
That said, marriage neither guarantees such stability, nor is it the only way to achieve it. But it's the best way most societies have found so far.
After I split from my long-term partner, and mother of my child, I discovered that as an unmarried father I had no immediate or legal right to see my child. Luckily my ex-partner is co-operative and I have some access. The law, it seems, does not treat unmarried men and women equally.
As for growing up with married parents one of whom was violent, I know people who grew up in single-parent households with a troubled and/or violent parent. Violent parents will continue to exist with or without marriage.
I stay with my partner because I want to and not because I have a piece of paper that says I should or because to leave would cost vast amounts in solicitors' fees. He knows that. As for children needing two parents, my siblings and I grew up with two married parents, one of whom was violent and abusive. Frankly we would have been far better off with just one parent who did all the providing and caring anyway. So all the sweeping generalisations on this page are just that.
Marriage is first and foremost, a legally binding union. Once married, couples gain legal benefits in terms of splitting assets in the case of divorce, tax credits and benefits, insurance beneficiaries, wills and so on. I see no reason why people with or without children should get married if they don't want to. But, particularly if they have children, they have to weigh up the 'cons' of marriage against the 'pros' of legal status.
Richard N, UK
Marriage was important when the woman stayed at home and the man went to work. It was about the woman looking after 2.4 kids and the man making the money. Isn't co-habiting just a way of saying "I'm different to that generation"? Personally, I am not religious, but when I meet the right person, I want to make a public declaration of my commitment to that man.
About as relevant as religion in general.
If you are planning to have a family and you regard marrying your partner as a means to securing them into the relationship, you are categorically with the wrong person.
Yes, marriage is still important - I am relying on it to net me the fortune I never earned.
Marriage isn't just a signature on a piece of paper. It is a legally binding, publicly made commitment, and a statement that you at least intend your relationship to be for life. People seem to move in together at the drop of a hat these days for economic and practical reasons as much as anything. How can you be sure when people are just living together that they are not just waiting for something better to come along?
Pete, Wales, UK
Either you make a life-long commitment to your partner or you don't. If you do, why NOT get married? It's only a piece of paper, as so many people keep pointing out! And if you don't really want to make that commitment, why on earth do such couples have children?
It's only relevant to religious people. What use would atheists have for it? After all it is a religious obligation.
Our society can do without marriage. It's just a legal thing that complicates things if you want to change your life. I do not believe that the marriage vehicle itself contributes to a relationship between two people.
In today's society when so many people are atheist or agnostic it seems very hypocritical to bother to get married. Pretending that a big service in Church has some relevance other than to show off your other half or relative wealth to people you don't see very often and don't care about. What does have true meaning are the feelings that you share with your other half, in private, the intimacy that makes your relationship meaningful, the shared experience that adds to your wish to stay together - your free commitment to each other. How can marriage realistically celebrate or demonstrate that?
I wonder if there's a correlation between the aspirations and achievements of children and whether their parents are married during their childhood?
Marriage is a public declaration of commitment to a relationship. Anyone making that commitment without marrying is denying his or her closest friends and relations the chance to celebrate and join in a great rite of passage.
Jenny, Durham, UK
I have two children and I live with my partner. I love her and my two children with everything I have. We provide a loving, caring atmosphere for the children to grow up in, and the idea that you need two bands of gold and a piece of paper to provide a stable relationship is rubbish. Gary,UK:your argument no holds no water. The idea that an unmarried couple or single parent provides an unstable place for children is utter rubbish.
Adam Higgins, United Kingdom
I have been co-habiting with my partner for 17 years. Both of us had been married before with my marriage lasting the longest at three years! We have a nine year old child and what is important is not that we are married but that we provide him with a happy, stable, loving home which he has. My partner and I have no desire for marriage, as we both know that it doesn't come with a lifelong guarantee. Anthony, you should look up the legality of entitlement in divorce, it is not 50/50.
Any man who gets married nowadays is a fool. Should the marriage end he will find, even if he is blameless, the whole weight of the state will be against him. Equality goes out of the window if you are a married or divorced man.
I'm in my mid thirties, and most if not all of my friends have married from stable relationships within the past couple of years, so yes marriage is still popular, and no, none of my friends have had children out of wedlock (not that it really matters, as a stable relationship is the important part).
How very telling that most of the positive comments re marriage come from men, bearing out my suspicion that there are far fewer advantages than men in this out of date institution.
My friend lived with her partner for 10 years and they had 2 children. Shortly after they got married, she left him. He wasn't a very considerate man and marriage raised her expectations. She is now living with another man and they have a baby whilst her other children chose to stay with their father. He also has a new partner and baby. I am not sure what this proves, but it certainly disproves the theory of marriage making relationships more secure.
S Fowler, UK
To S Fowler,
Why was splitting up an option before you were married but not so afterwards?
I think children need parents who are committed to each other, and marriage is only a way of showing that commitment. I think all parents should marry. These days, the ceremony itself can be as simple or as grand as you wish, and is not really the issue.
Why am I left with the suspicion that the 54% who support marriage were the women?
It seems to me that more people who do get married want a nice day in a church, than a solemn ritual in front of God. Or they treat it as a parent pleasing project. Also I think people are more confident about making a life long commitment to each other on their own terms.
The one advantage of marriage is practicality. The British Courts are full of couples who lived together and split up, arguing about who owns what. And after the solicitors take their share there is not much left. In a proper divorce it is split 50/50.
You do not need an expensive wedding to get married, as Lizz, UK, said. A witness or two at the registry office is all that you need. Liz you are depriving us of a good day out and a chance to get dressed up! I bet you never throw a party either. I hope you turn down the next wedding invite you get, because you don't believe in spending the money yourself.
Yes, children need parents, one male and the other female.
Ian W, UK
According to what I've read in the press over the past few days: far from needing married parents, in theory children no longer need parents at all. So I'm inclined to suppose that unmarried parents might be better than none.
Richard P, UK
It is relevant, as all the evidence shows it is the best environment (a stable 2-parent family) to bring up children.
26 Nov 01 | UK
Children before marriage 'more acceptable'
25 Jun 98 | UK
Marriage out of fashion
26 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Mixed marriages 'more acceptable'
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