I’m a hero, apparently. I’ve always wanted to be a hero, and now I discover I am; and it’s not just me who’s saying it. No lesser person than the Archbishop of Canterbury, when speaking at the launch of National Marriage Week, has stated I am a hero; and all because a few years ago I spent more money than I had on a fuck-off big party.
This again. The biannual news story that marriage should be promoted because married couples are more likely to stay together than unmarried couples, and that children tend to do better when being born into married families. It is getting tiresome.
First of all, what’s it got to do with the church? I can see why Rowan Williams would want to bask in the reflected glory of the seemingly favourable statistics associated with marriage, but would that be fair? I was married in a civil ceremony, and one of the rules of such a wedding is that there can be no mention of religion at any stage of the service. As a result it was touch and go at one stage whether the music we picked – Ennio Morricone’s score for the film The Mission – would be allowed. Therefore, surely religion should similarly be explicitly excluded as a potential cause of my successful marriage, and those of my many friends who were also married in civil ceremonies?
Secondly, I wasn’t born married. My wife and I went out together, lived together and even got up to cheeky nonsense together for over four years before we were wed. Would Dr Williams have been critical of our arrangements had he met us at the start of June 2002? Did that much change by the time we were sipping champagne a few days later? We were still the same people, with the same devotion to each other.
And today; am I dedicated to my wife because I am married to her? I don’t think so; that statement is surely putting the cart before the horse. I am dedicated to my wife because I am still in love with her, always will be. It is because I am dedicated to her that I am married to her, not the other way round. I don’t think marriage as an institution can take any of the credit.
But can marriage help keep couples together? Perhaps. I can imagine some people being in the situation where they feel the need to fight to save their marriage, when if they were in a different type of relationship (at least one without kids) they may not feel there was anything to fight for. It is a moot point whether that is a good or bad thing – should you fight to stay with someone just because you are married to them; if you are having to fight, should you really be with them? – but no doubt there are people who have stayed together simply because of the marriage, and the relationship has subsequently flourished once the tricky spell is over. But surely that only works if you value marriage in itself in the first place; simply promoting marriage to people who aren’t inclined to get wed can only be good news for the divorce lawyers. The statistics that show married relationships as being more stable surely just prove that stable couples are more likely to get married; if more people were to get wed simply because they have been cajoled or incentivised by the church or state I can well imagine those statistics converging over time.
Why get married then? Well how about for the same reason I did; simply because I wanted to. The benefits of marriage are intangible, and so they should be. My wedding was the best day of my life, without doubt, and we treasure our memories of that day. I’ve never worn jewellery but I love wearing my wedding ring, not because it is an attractive and valuable chunk of gold, but because it is a link to and constant reminder of my wife. I didn’t have to get married, no one should have to, but I wanted to and I’m glad I did. But I don’t think it has any bearing of the success of our relationship.
So is marriage the “glue that holds society together” as the Telegraph’s editorial predictably puts it? I don’t think so. It may do some good work at the margins, persuading some couples to give their relationship one last go, but that is about it. I don’t think you should dismiss entirely the effect marriage can have, but it is important not to build its part either.