Who says marriage is a good thing?

23th May 2001

THEY were all at it – cleric and layman, catholic and protestant, christian and agnostic – praising the institution of marriage. All talking twaddle.

What’s so good about it? I’m baffled as to how there can be virtual unanimity on something that can’t be measured.

How much does the average person know about marriage?

Go on.

How many marriages do you know intimately? Even your parents’ marriage? Or your siblings’ marriages? Or your own?

I suspect that people ascribe certain qualities to marriage. Like companionship, love, sex, security and parenting. Marriage could indeed involve these things but there’s no guarantee to it. And no reason not to have these without marriage.

Women’s refuges are full of married people and their children. Thousands of married people now live alone and are better off because of it.

And in another unmeasurable statistic millions of Irish people down the years stayed within the shell of a dead relationship because they were married. These are now counted as happy couples.

In the past women had no choice but to stay put. They had no right to property, rarely had marketable skills and had precious little rights. In the past 30 years women have learned that they don’t have to put up with abuse and so they leave. What’s wrong with that?

So I don’t know where people get the idea that marriage is intrinsically good.

Unless they mean it’s a good idea. Of course it is. Particularly where child-rearing is concerned.

As a father of two small kids I simply don’t know how single parents cope. It must be very difficult. Sheer hard work.

For kids it would be better to have both mam and dad at home. In the real world this may not be possible. And marriage can’t guarantee it either.

In fact, an increasing number of parents are deciding not to get married. They just don’t see any point to it because they know that marriage can’t guarantee a good relationship. They figure that the relationship must stand or fall on its own merits.

The Constitution and the churches support marriage and all the political parties pledge allegiance. They say that the Government should support marriage. And so it does.

In tax affairs married couples can combine their incomes to gain an advantage while unmarried couples have to carry on like two single people. Many men have a suspicion that unmarried fathers are at a disadvantage if custody and access to their children becomes an issue.

Presumably the churches and conservatives would like additional practical measures to support marriage.

Does this not demonstrate how shaky the institution is without the State to prop it up? If marriage is so good why not let it stand on its own merits.

Maybe it’s a generational thing. The only reason me and my better half share the house, the kids and the time is because we want to. I honestly don’t believe that being married has contributed a whit to it.

For the future, if the churches and the conservatives believe that a tax advantage and the role model of the Taoiseach is going to save the institution of marriage then they are even more out of touch with reality than I thought they were.

Not that I think that they are badly motivated. They don’t want parents and children to get hurt. Fair enough, but scraping around for yesterday’s solutions won’t help.

It could even be that marriage is making things worse for children. Perhaps by making marriage an all-or-nothing relationship the task of rearing kids is too mixed up in the idea of love between parents.

I think the good influence of parents is overrated. Apparently the best-behaved generation in England was the one shifted off to the countryside for the duration of the war.

So we should be looking for alternatives to marriage. If marriage can’t provide stability for kids then the burden should be broadened to offset the damage.

Maybe we need to think about wider family models. You know, ones not based on contracts and blood.

As well as that…

Sin now, apologise later

OVER the past 10 years the Catholic Church and its institutions have been doing a lot of apologising.

From the child abuse scandals to the most recent visit of the Pope to Greece, the Catholic Church has been owning up to the sins of the past.

It seems reasonable to assume that the church realises that it hurt a lot of people and that humility is called for. So far so good.

Now the partner of the elected leader of this country has to slink away in the night in case the Cardinal might come into contact with her on a State occasion.

All I can say is that not very much has changed at all. The church is still convinced that the rest of the world has to live to its standards.

It’s like something out of the dark ages where, despite all the apologies, the church is still living.

Which is fine. I don’t mind how the church conducts its affairs.

I do mind the church still trying to run the country. Secular society in this country is entitled to run its own standards on its own patch. If the Cardinal doesn’t want his evenings spoiled by our tolerance it might have been better if he stayed at home.