Magazine article The Spectator

Rediscovering and Old Pair of Genes

Magazine article The Spectator

Rediscovering and Old Pair of Genes

Article excerpt

IT IS a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of someone with whom to cohabit. But why on earth does William Hague insist on marrying Ffion Jenkins next month? Surely his friends must have told him that sin is in, that living with one's 'partner' is now accepted, even by the Church, and it is only a few bluerinse marriage mujahedin who are adamant that the leader of the Tory party should walk down the aisle.

Didn't they warn him that getting married costs on average L10,000, and that's only if you make do with a gold-plated ring and an off-the-peg dress; that his Yorkshire relatives may ridicule the way the Welshmen insist on singing alto; and that half his colleagues might uever forgive him if they don't receive an invitation?

Then there are the annual figures released by the Office for National Statistics last week, which he probably didn't read to Ffion over the breakfast table. `Marriage is going out of fashion' began the press release. Only 238,000 couples tied the knot in 1995, down 50 per cent from 1970. At the same time 155,000 couples split up. The think-tank Demos talks about marriage in crisis. The Queen may be celebrating her golden wedding anniversary this week, but three of her children are already divorced.

If William can't see it, then surely Ffion must. Jane Austen said that marriage was the only honourable provision for a welleducated young woman of small fortune. Now young career women are told that marriage is not a word but a sentence. They can create their own financial security, and they won't be stigmatised if they decide to bring up a child by themselves. Even Mr Hague's close colleague Peter Lilley, the shadow Chancellor, has admitted that there is very little that many young men can now offer a woman.

If the Hagues take any modern novels on their honeymoon, they will realise that writers are equally cynical. Once many good stories ended in a proposal. Now the words 'I do' relegate a book to the status of Mills & Boon. Films like When Harry Met Sally and Four Weddings and a Funeral are dismissed as schmaltz. The bestseller Bridget Jones's Diary makes it hip to be single. When Bridget complains about a particularly stultifying `smug marrieds' dinner party, her friend Shazza replies: `You should have said, "I'm not married because I am a singleton, you smug, prematurely ageing, narrow-minded morons."'

Mr Hague is a rational man. So he could follow the example of the pragmatic Charles Darwin. On nearing 30, Darwin wrote a list of the pros and cons of marriage. The pros won and he had found a wife within the year. The cons now seem to take up more space. There is no longer a religious imperative. The majority of couples don't go to church, so they have no need to marry in the eyes of God. Nor is there a moral imperative. Since the Sixties, people have taken more care of their record collection than their virginity. There is now no stigma in being born a bastard. Increasingly women don't even want to have children, so the concept of marriage for procreation goes out of the window.

There is little financial incentive. In 17 years in power, the Tories tilted the tax system against married couples. Legally, longterm cohabitees have almost as many rights as married couples. Only in the courts do they lose out, and the Lord Chancellor is looking at ways of smoothing out this anomaly. To make matters worse, many government departments, hospitals and schools now prefer the all-encompassing word 'partner' rather than husband/wife, so nuptials no longer confer even a nominal distinction.

The pros are less easy to find. If Mr Hague looked up 'marriage' in the Encyclopaedia Britannia, he wouldn't find much relief. Just before the first world war the entry covered six pages, now it has been condensed to two columns. The Church of England appears reticent in talking about marriage. I gave the press office at Church House three days to locate a bishop who would comment for this article on the benefits of marriage; they couldn't find one. …

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