The direction of divorce reform in this country, from 1969 onwards, has all been in one direction — continuous liberalisation. I can understand some of the reasons for it but there is now an issue of justice. For judges not to be able to take into account an injustice or a wrong that has been done, doesn't speak well for our commitment to justice. Nor does the fact that subsequent arrangements do not depend on how responsible each partner has been in the marriage. We've got to do something about this. (People involved in marriage support have frequently said that they are amazed at the lack of support in the divorce courts.)
Finally, there is the question of preference for marriage. If there is a public doctrine of marriage, there will be some preference for marriage and for the family. I was very glad when the Conservative Party election manifesto pledged to recognise marriage through the tax system, and I am sad that the party has not honoured its pledge, or at least not yet. It is very important that people mean what they say. If the Conservative Party or the Prime Minister says that marriage is important for society and the family, that has to be recognised somehow.
The tax system is one obvious way to do it. How that is done can be discussed, whether through restoration of the married couple's allowance, or the transfer of tax allowances between one partner and the other, or the support of marriage and families where there are children, the last being the pattern found in France and Italy. However it is done, it must be done for the sake of marriage, the family and demography. We are in a serious situation insofar as the replacement of the population is concerned. The reasons we don't see it more clearly are, first, immigration, and second, people living longer. But the whole of Western Europe is facing the critical issue of falling fertility rates and there should be no shame in encouraging people to have children and in supporting them through the tax system, so that we can also look after the elderly when they can no longer work.
Our task, then, is not to redefine marriage but to understand its nature and the threats to it. It is also to promote marriage and defend it. Would that we were having a proper consultation about these essentials, rather than the marginal and somewhat exotic one in which we are at present engaged.
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