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Family judge Sir Paul Coleridge is firing on all cylinders with the imminent launch of the Marriage Foundation and has launched a huge media offensive with interviews and commentary coming thick and fast.
Personally I am glad to see that his views seem to fit with my own that family lawyers are probably the only lawyers who would love to live in a society in which they were entirely redundant, for what a utopia it would be.
However, I am concerned to see that the Marriage Foundation has missed the opportunity to support gay marriage: in its frequently asked questions section it comment as follows:
“Question: Is the MF engaged in the current debate around the definition of marriage?
“Answer: No. It is not what we are about. The fundamental concern which underlies and so drives the establishment of the Marriage Foundation is in relation to family breakdown and its destructive effects on the lives of children. One of our primary aims is to reduce the number of children caught up in the family justice system (currently 3.8 million) and the misery which they experience as a result. For obvious reasons those children are almost entirely located within heterosexual partnerships. We believe that championing the case for marriage ’as the gold standard’ is the best way of ameliorating this problem. That is, in itself, a huge task and, as a fledgling organisation, we do not have the resources to engage in any other or different campaigns. Accordingly we have nothing we want to say in the current debate.”
I find it difficult to reconcile the statement that “it is not what we are about” with their stated aims and objectives: “The overall purpose of the Marriage Foundation is to be a national champion (advocate) for marriage, strengthening the institution for the benefit of children, adults and society as a whole.”
I struggle to see how this is incompatible with discussing gay marriage, or even championing it. Surely a new constituency of marriage enthusiasts is exactly what the Marriage Foundation wants to see?
Logically it must be accepted that more children live with heterosexual parents than with homosexual parents, but I struggle to see how the consequences of family breakdown are any less devastating for these children than for any others. Why should they be excluded from the Marriage Foundation’s concerns?
The foundation goes on to say: “We can have healthier relationships that are less likely to break down. Most people still aspire to marriage, but many slide into relationships that prove unstable, lack the skills for healthy relationships and don’t access help. As if that weren’t challenging enough, the benefits of publicly recognised intentional acts of commitment are too readily dismissed as mere ‘pieces of paper’.
“Private and public attitudes need to change; reaffirming marriage as the ’gold standard’ for couple relationships is an essential first step.”
It seems odd to recognise that “most people still aspire to marriage” (including presumably the homosexual couples who actively campaign to be allowed to legally marry) and to want to promote marriage as the “gold standard” and then not to support those who want equal access to that gold standard of relationship.
I completely accept that as a fledgling organisation the Marriage Foundation’s resources are limited, but surely a statement of support and some links to other groups that are campaigning on the subject would not be particularly resource intensive?
I very much hope that this lack of support for gay marriage is something the Marriage Foundation will rethink and that they will open their eyes to the benefits of marriage really being a gold standard for all, regardless of sexual preference.
Zoe Saunders is a family barrister at St John’s Chambers