26th May 2000
I voted yes in the last divorce referendum but it was a close run thing. I was minded to vote no up right up to polling day and even then it was a very watery yes.
I found the whole debate infuriating and I’m still convinced that a large number of people, particularly on the yes side, used their vote as a fashion statement. I think a lot voted for the modernity angle without looking at the issue at all.
But anyway, the debate never got near the heart of the matter, which is: what is the point of marriage?
Everyone agreed that marriage is a good thing. But what is it?
Is it a companionship? Is it a financial arrangement? Is it a structure to raise a family? Is it an economic unit? Or is it just a tradition? (Not to mention the sex)
Hand on heart, can anyone in a ‘successful’ marriage claim that the relationship wouldn’t have lasted without the marriage ceremony?
And that’s the problem with analysing marriage. It’s absolutely impossible to judge what goes on in relationships. However, I’m not going to let that stop me having a stab at it.
We can say that in the past fewer marriages broke down. We can’t say that all those marriages were happy or even tolerable. Women were in an extremely dependent role and couldn’t lightly walk away.
Statistics show that in the West a greater proportion of marriages are breaking down all the time. Statistics also show that a lot of couples aren’t getting married at all.
All the evidence, gathered and anecdotal, suggests that formal marriage is under severe pressure.
We don’t need statistics to tell us that the answer lies, as with so much else in our society, in economics.
The nuclear family is primarily an economic unit. The tasks of the socio-economy are divided out in a hierarchical manner in capitalist society. A man worked to provide for his family. Just one man could provide for maybe 10 or 15 people.
In return he was captain of his ship. He might be poor and miserable but at least he wasn’t a woman.
But society progressed. Consumer society demands more consumers. Education is needed. Then educated workers demand rights.
Living standards rise. Consumers want more goods and employers want more workers. Women become economically active.
Through this transformation to bourgeois society the ideology of the family is stripped of its economic imperative to the stage we have almost reached now where there is almost no incentive to get married.
But wait, you say, what about the kids? That’s obvious. They are there to stimulate demand at Christmas.
It’s a bit early to say whether men and women can live together for life in the modern world. We’ll know more in 50 or 100 years time.
In the meantime relationship break-up is doling out a terrible burden to kids.
This is the way I see it going.
Monogamous relationships, marital or otherwise, will fail to provide a suitable structure for rearing children. Apart from the issue of happiness, this is the most serious consequence for our society.
I predict that children will have to be reared collectively as the only means of having stability in their lives. And the last reason for marriage will be gone.