Marriage is an institution that has existed in most societies around the world for an incredibly long time. It is, traditionally, the union between a man and woman in both a religious and a legal sense. Marriage offers a stable relationship that is recognised by the state and by whatever religion the couple choose to follow, as well as providing a good environment in which to raise children. However, with ever rising amounts of premarital cohabitation, single parent families and children born outside of wedlock, as well as the decline in adherence to religion, it seems that the institution is losing much of its appeal. In this debate, the proposition must prove that the institution of marriage has ceased to have relevance to modern society.
The main objective of marriage is often said to be bringing up children in a stable environment. However in 2010 in the UK there were 119589 divorces; 11.1 per 1000 married population. Furthermore in the same year, the median duration of a marriage remained at a low level of 11.4 years.(Rogers, 2011) This clearly does not fulfill the initial basic aim of marriage as so many marriages end In divorce with the resulting splits affecting the children. In fact, a much more stable environment can be provided by a better relationship, even without matrimonial vows (Cherlin 2009). This relationship should not have to be through marriage; rather it would simply be a partnership in the way that many couples already live today.
Once a couple get married, they have made an official and legal commitment, which makes it more difficult for them to split up. This means that, irrespective of divorce statistics, adding marriage to a relationship will only serve to make it more stable and give the children of that relationship more security. Therefore marriage still gives benefits in modern society and is not outdated. (Waite 2000)
The average age, in the UK, to get married is approximately 30 years old. (Office for National Statistics 1999) Life expectancy in the UK is approximately 80 years. (Office for National Statistics 1999) This means the average marriage expects people to commit to maintain a certain way of life for a period that is longer than they have actually been alive. This goes hand in hand with the rise of social acceptability of people having more than one life partner in their life to show that either marriage is an unreasonable expectation of someone or a meaningless charade that is not actually expected to be maintained.(Cherlin 2009)
This argument only works under the assumption that we live in a society where divorce does not exist. If a person enters into a marriage without full awareness of what they have committed to and later need to get out of that marriage, they are free to.
Being able to leave a marriage, though, does not make marriage a meaningless charade, as the proposition claims. It is still more difficult to leave a marriage than it is to leave a non-marital committed relationship and so it makes a big difference.
With pre-nuptials, which essentially amount to pre-planning for divorce, heavily on the rise, and divorces becoming ever easier to obtain, it is clear that our society no longer respects marriage as a permanent institution. Serial monogamy is also becoming ever more common, with 50% of all divorcees in the UK going on to remarry. (Office for National Statistics)
Since the purpose of marriage has always been to foster a stable and permanent relationship, it is clearly an entirely outdated institution as it no longer leads to a stable or permanent relationship.
The purpose of marriage is not an eternal, unrelenting union, whether it is wanted or not. The purpose of marriage is to foster a more stable relationship than would be possible without marital vows. Therefore, the fact that divorce is becoming more common and easier to obtain does not undermine the institution of marriage at all.
The proposition believes that they have proven that marriage no longer has a social or practical function. This leaves its only function as one of religious significance. However, with the percentage of people in the UK who identify as having no religion having risen by nearly 20% in the last 20 years and the percentage of people who identify as religious having dropped by approximately the same amount (British Social Attitudes Surveys 2007). Church attendance is even lower at a mere 6%(whychurch.org.uk). As a result there needs to be a new more inclusive institution that is open to all religions and those of no religion. It is clear that marriage can no longer perform this function for everyone in society.
Firstly, the opposition does not accept that the proposition have proven that marriage has no function outside of religion. However, even if they had proven this, they still have not proven that marriage has no religious function and, therefore, have lost the debate anyway.
The proposition asserts that because numbers of religious people in the UK are declining, this means marriage is no longer relevant religiously. The fact is that nearly 50% of people in the UK still identify as religious. (British Social Attitudes Survey 2007)The fact that this is less than before is meaningless; it is still the case that marriage has religious significance for nearly half the country.
As explained in the first proposition point, one of the primary functions of marriage is seen to be to raise children. Marriage is therefore seen as the best way to raise children. This undermines same-sex couples and single parent families raising children.
The existence of marriage is essentially saying that same-sex couples and single parents are less able of raising children than heterosexual couples. Marriage, therefore, can be seen to promote outdated ideals that our society no longer holds and, as such, is itself an outdated institution.
The idea that the existence of marriage undermines other methods of raising children is ridiculous. This is equivalent to saying that making it legal for same-sex couples to adopt undermines raising children as a heterosexual couple or as a single parent.
Some people choosing to raise children in a certain way does not prevent or inhibit other people doing so in a different way.
Marriage represents a commitment and a bond that is, although not unbreakable, difficult to break. This may not be appropriate for couples who wish to have a more casual relationship, however, it offers a more stable and official relationship, which is far preferable to a more transient relationship when it comes to raising a child. (Waite 2000)
The fact that 40% of marriages end in divorce and that this is on the rise (National Office for Statistics 1999) shows that marriage clearly does not offer the stability that the opposition claims it does. In fact, it seems that marriage offers no more stability than a stable relationship, thus making it redundant in terms of raising children.
50% of all divorcees in the UK go on to remarry. (National Office for Statistics 1999) This shows that, although their own marriage failed, they retain faith in the institution of marriage. The fact that, even when marriage has failed to work for them once, many people wish to give it another go shows that it is still meaningful to society. If an institution is so meaningful and relevant to modern society in this way, it cannot possibly be outdated.
The fact that 50% of all divorcees (National Office for Statistics 1999) go on to remarry does not, as the opposition claims, show that marriage is a meaningful and relevant institution but quite the opposite. What this means is that a huge number of people vow to spend the rest of their life with another person, forsaking all others until death do them part, on multiple occasions. This does not show that society still has faith in marriage, it shows that society no longer respects the institution of marriage.
Marriage has relevance to modern society in not only an emotional, religious and practical sense but also in a legal sense. According to Sir Mark Potter in English Law marriage is regarded as an "age-old institution" that is "by longstanding definition and acceptance" a formal relationship between a man and a woman primarily designed for producing and rearing children. It gives many rights in areas like property rights and pension benefits.(Travis, 2011) A marital bond gives important rights to both parties in cases of events such as severe injury, bereavement or even divorce. An institution cannot be outdated if it retains legal importance in modern society.
If marriage’s main function is to protect against bereavement and divorce then it is essentially protecting against harms that it itself brings. Without marriage, bereavement and divorce would cease to be as serious harms as they currently are.
Nearly 50% of people in the UK identify as being part of some religion. (British Social Attitudes Survey 2007) Marriage is an integral part of most major religions, particularly Christianity, where it is one of the sacraments(Lehmkuhl, 1910) which are necessary for salvation (Vatican.va). which encompasses over 40% of the population of the UK. (British Social Attitudes Survey 2007) While there are still such huge numbers of people who practice religions to which marriage is integral, marriage cannot be outdated.
In the last 20 years, the number of people in the UK who identify as religious has declined by 20%. This shows that religion as a whole is becoming less important and, with it, marriage is becoming less important. (British Social Attitudes Survey 2007)
Marriage promotes raising children as part of a monogamous couple. Without marriage, the frequency of single parent families would rise. Statistically, children who come from single parent families are more likely to live under the poverty line, more likely to be convicted of a criminal offence, more likely to become ill, less likely to complete every level of education and more likely to grow up to have low incomes themselves. (O’Neill 2002) Clearly then, marriage provides a lot of goods to children of married families, thus it provides goods in modern society and therefore cannot be outdated.
These statistics do not conclusively prove that married life is a better way to raise a child in every case. It is harmful to promote a message that a marriage is always a better way to raise a child than a single parent family. For instance, in the case of an abusive relationship or an individual who is clearly a completely unsuitable parent, it would be better for the parent who was suitable to raise the child by themselves than to hold up a marriage that was harmful to the raising of that child.
The choice is not always between a good marriage and single parent life but often between a harmful marriage and single parent life, so marriage does not necessarily promote a better way to raise children. (Cherlin 2009)
Cherlin, Andrew J. “The Marriage Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today” Knopf. 2009. http://www.amazon.com/Marriage-Go-Round-State-Marriage-Family-America/dp/0307266893
Lehmkuhl, Augustinus. "Sacrament of Marriage." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 12 Sept. 2011 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09707a.htm
O’Neill, Rebecca. “Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family.” The Institute for the Study of Civil Society. 2002. http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/Experiments.pdf
Rogers, Simon, Divorce rates date, 1858 to now: why are divorces going up', The Guardian Datablog, 8 December 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/jan/28/divorce-rates-marriage-ons
Travis, Alan, “Gay marriage v civil partnership: what's the difference?”, The Guardian, 17 February 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/17/gay-marriage-civil-partnerships
Waite, Linda. Gallagher, Maggie. “The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Financially Better Off.’ Doubleday. 2000. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385500858/interntionaldeba/104-5333130-0270319
“Divorce and Remarriage in Wales and England.” The Office for National Statistics. 1999. http://www.ons.gov.uk
“Religion by Year.” British Social Attitudes Survey. 2007.
“How many people go to Church in the UK”, http://www.whychurch.org.uk/trends.php
Vatican.va, The Sacraments of Salvation, Catechism of the Catholic Church, http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P33.HTM