If there’s one thing we learnt from last year’s almighty fight over marriage as the Equal Marriage Bill passed through parliament, it’s that this nation still cares about the institution of marriage. Most normal people don’t bother getting worked up over something that they consider to be a waste of time.
It’s not hard to find statistics that explain why marriage carries so much value. The Times reported last month that for families with children, married couples are four times less likely to separate than co-habiting couples. A report last year, which analysed figures from the Office for National Statistics, found that 93 per cent of couples whose relationships are still intact by the time their child is a teenager are married. Of course, not every marriage works out well and there are plenty of people who have suffered when marriages have gone wrong, but only the ignorant would deny that it greatly benefits society and especially children. Unsurprisingly three-quarters of people below the age of 35 still see marriage as one of their primary aspirations in life, but despite this marriage still often fails to receive the support it deserves. The Work and Pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, speaking at the most recent Marriage Foundation conference said that even though he has seen a recent positive change in the discourse of marriage, he has found it tough to speak in support of marriage at the political level where it is still not seen as “fashionable”:
“I believe any government serious about tackling poverty and promoting a strong, cohesive society must seek to strengthen families.
“And yet, when a politician extolled the virtues of the fundamental institution of marriage, too often, it has been taken to mean that they are attacking those whose lifestyles don’t fit.
“This is an absurd and damaging assumption.”
Marriage is essentially a simple and uncomplicated thing. It’s a commitment between two people, publicly expressed on their wedding day, that they intend to share the rest of their lives together through thick and thin. And yet somehow over the years we’ve complicated it and commercialised it. We’ve done little to encourage those who want to keep going and made it too easy to call the whole thing off if it doesn’t suit us anymore. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams, last week warned that the growing pressure on couples to have a “perfect” wedding has become one of the biggest threats to marriage itself. He spoke on many themes previously raised by Mr Duncan Smith he said that society needs to “take a long hard look at the marketisation of marriage”:
“That is the perfect relationship crystalised in the perfect wedding day – the immense economic, advertising investment in this massively fantastical experience which you go through on your wedding day, after which, of course, nothing is ever quite so good again.
“That is an aspect I think of the short-term, unimaginative, emotionally unintelligent climate that sometimes we seem forced to inhabit.”
Anyone who has seen a successful marriage will know that the amount of money spent on a wedding day has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of relationship that lies beyond it. There will always be highs and lows and success will come through mutual love and selflessness in the mundane nature of day-to-day life.
The flame of passion that brings two people together requires a lot of work to keep it burning over the years. This is why initiatives such as Marriage Week are to be welcomed. This year it runs in 19 countries from the 7th to the 14th of February finishing appropriately on Valentine’s Day. Supported by a group of Christian organisations, it has been celebrating all that is good about marriage since 1996. It looks to provide an annual focus for everyone who values marriage and a chance for couples to celebrate their commitment to each other.
This year’s theme for marriage Week is The Big Promise. Couples in the UK have the opportunity to renew their wedding vows on Saturday, 8th February, at 5:15pm. The intention is to set a new Guinness World Record for couples reaffirming their vows simultaneously. The current World Record stands at 1,087 achieved in the USA in 2009. It’s both a bit of fun, but also serious. Marriage vows are the most long-term promises we ever make – to love and care for someone else for the rest of our lives. They are a commitment to put someone else’s interests as equal to our own, and they involve setting aside our own short-term ‘wants’ for long-term stability and satisfaction. They are life changing and have a huge impact on the way our lives work out. It’s worth giving them the respect they deserve and the Big Promise aims to be a reminder do that.
If this is something you would like to be involved in, all of the details to register are available at The Big Promise website.