Marriage is under scrutiny, but for the wrong reason. The issue of same-sex marriage is, it seems, of consuming interest, especially to those who want it (the minority of homosexuals who feel that civil partnerships lack the dignity of matrimony) or those who fear that they will sooner or later come under pressure to solemnise it (the churches and other faiths). This debate has revealed widespread uncertainty about the definition and value of this most ancient of institutions. In this month's issue, David Green and Douglas Murray write from opposite sides of the argument; next month Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali will consider the question of what we mean by marriage.
Yet the question of whether the rights already enjoyed by same-sex couples should be redefined is really rather arcane. Only a minority of people are homosexual; of those, only a minority choose to live in civil partnerships; and of those, only a minority are actively demanding that their unions be recognised as "marriages": a minority of a minority of a minority. The real reason why we should be thinking about marriage is that it has been undermined over the last two generations by a culture that is inimical to matrimonial bliss and the virtues on which it thrives. Our civilisation has depended and will continue to depend upon the legal, social and spiritual framework in which children are raised. Marriage is about much more than procreation, but it matters above all because children matter. Without the civilising effects of marriage, the history of humanity would be so different as to be unrecognisable.
Yet we are living now through the first period when it has become not merely common but normal for unmarried women to have children, supported not by a man but by the welfare state. Those who never marry and those who divorce now outnumber those who stay married. The "honourable" and "holy estate" eulogised by the Book of Common Prayer remains a desideratum for almost everyone, but it is no longer an expectation for anyone. Whole communities have allowed marriage to fall into desuetude. Husbands and fathers are rare in a society raised by single mothers. Deprived of their role as protectors and providers, men become predators instead.