A Very Modern Romance; as Church Leaders Call for the Government to Put Marriage at the Centre of Social Policy, Chief Feature Writer Ros Dodd Asks Whether or Not Wedlock Is Relevant Today

The Birmingham Post (England), January 12, 2001 | Go to article overview

A Very Modern Romance; as Church Leaders Call for the Government to Put Marriage at the Centre of Social Policy, Chief Feature Writer Ros Dodd Asks Whether or Not Wedlock Is Relevant Today


Queen Victoria's long and happy marriage to her beloved Prince Albert has apparently been mirrored, 100 years down the line, by our present monarch's union with the Duke of Edinburgh.

A century is a long time - and the 20th saw more changes than any other in history - but some things don't alter. The institution of marriage remains the bedrock of society.

Or does it?

The numbers of people tying the knot has fallen steadily over the past few decades. While there was a 13 per cent increase in civil weddings during the 90s, newly-released statistics show the total number of marriages continued to slump last year.

Meanwhile, a high proportion of those who do marry find themselves in the divorce courts a few anniversaries down the line.

The divorce rate in England and Wales might have fallen to a nine-year low (there were 144,600 divorces last year, compared with 158,700 in 1991), but the fact remains that one in four marriages will hit the buffers.

As marriage has declined, so casual relationships, cohabitation and single parent families have boomed. Legalised gay marriages are not unlikely in the near future, the word 'partner' - meaning unmarried live-in lover - is common currency and four births out of every ten are outside marriage.

This state of affairs appears to be tolerated, if not actively promoted, by the Government. But sections of society, including the Church, are unhappy at the move away from marriage.

Backed up by surveys which show that children fare better, emotionally and educationally, when brought up by two parents who are married to each other, the Church is becoming more vociferous in its demand for a return to traditional values.

Last week, the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, called for marriage to become enshrined in social and educational policy. His stance was echoed by the Archbishop of Birmingham this week, who urged the Prime Minister to put the issue of marriage at the heart of the General Election campaign.

The Most Rev Vincent Nichols said Tony Blair should be courageous in his policy-making and recognise marriage was the bedrock of a stable society.

'The rising figure of the number seeking civil marriages indicates that the institution of marriage is as important as ever in the lives of the people of this country.

'I would hope that this encourages the Government to give more prominence to the importance of marriage in its social and educational policies.'

But in the run-up to the 100th anniversary of Queen Victoria's death on January 22, is it viable to attempt to regain the values of that long-ago society?

Robert Whelan, director of Family and Youth Concern, believes it's worth a try. The Government, he said yesterday, owes it to people to provide a framework of support for marriage.

'We can't put the clock back because obviously the world has changed,' he explains. 'All sorts of circumstances we are dealing with today the Victorians didn't have to deal with. There are many pressures in modern life; for instance, many families need two incomes to pay their mortgage. …

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