The recent interim study announcements by The Centre of Social Justice regarding marriage and how it could be further ‘strengthened’ are, I'm afraid, a little naive. Eliminating the tax and benefits systems' bias against committed relationships is one thing, but actively using state power to promote them is quite another.
Ever since marriage was institutionalized, it has been a menage a trois: the couple and the government. The government, whichever party happens to be in power, lures the couple into a painful triangular relationship with the come-to-bed-eyes of tax breaks, credits, allowances or benefits as the lubricant. It's time for this hideous, political lover to be kicked from the matrimonial bed.
First of all, the state offers little in the way of incentives that the perfect partner offers. Giving such primacy to policy is unrealistic. At the same time, we need to realize that marriage cannot solve all of society's ills. The desperately sorry cases of Baby P (at the hands of a psychotic/powerful individual) or Shannon Matthews (within a disparate ‘family’ directed by greed) do not show that but for a lack of marriage then it wouldn’t happen. These cases merely offer a commentary on the moral and intellectual shortcomings of a minority of individuals – a group which, sadly, exists in every society. When people are that far from being able to function rationally and sympathetically towards others it matters not one iota what the politicians do with legislation that surrounds marriage. Political force is exists to step in and protect when all else fails, to combat and rectify the actions of this minority – but it can't achieve everything.
One positive intention of the CSJ's report, however, is to promote the case for pre-nuptial agreements to be made legally binding. Quite right – this is the basis of what marriage primarily is: a partnership contract between two individuals, acting rationally in their own interests. It is not for the politician to influence that decision through benefits, assistance or forcing couples to remain together. This action retards us all a little more and undermines relationships to the detriment society.