A once venerable institution, marriage has had more premature obituaries written about it than an octogenarian Hollywood actress. It seems we are avoiding its clutches for longer, leaving it sooner and promoting the alternatives more vigorously than ever. Who in their right mind would want to stand up for it in public life? Well, Baroness Deech for one. Arguing that preventing divorce is an essential service for women, she makes the point that education is provided in schools ‘about smoking and food’ and that there’s no reason not to extend this to marriage. Indeed, lessons about handling finances, the important role of the father and the effects of marital breakdown would all be valuable in informing teenagers better for future commitment. But it does seem curious, doesn’t it, that there is already an area of the curriculum which has intense relevance for marriage yet even suggesting them together would be political dynamite. Sex and Relationships education appears to be a no-go area for such values.
Certainly, like Baroness Deech, we need to be addressing the obvious effects of marital breakdown as issues of pressing concern. By giving better preparation for marriage we might prevent some of the pain for couples and their children. And, as she hints, the adoption of the Australian approach to family mediation that avoids sending so many families through an adversarial courts system would be a vast improvement. But let’s not pretend that this is the whole story. Marriage as God intended requires more than just some extra homework for applicants- it requires the consistent support of all those surrounding the (un)happy couple. That involves you and me- marriage is a public commitment. Speaking from personal experience, friends who express encouragement and challenge selfishness are essential for coming through the dark times, together. And that’s a real challenge for our individualised and private culture.