If I had not become a Christian and had remained a votary of secular liberalism, I would now have to concede that the heterosexually married family is the best environment for most children to grow up in.
I would also have to concede that sex should be confined to marriage. Both propositions stand to reason.
Is it really surprising to find that a society that honours marriage tends to work better for children?
The British politician who has done a great deal through his Centre for Social Justice to demonstrate the vital importance of the institution of marriage is Iain Duncan Smith.
In 2012, when he was Work and Pensions Secretary, he went public with solid statistical evidence that children raised in married families were achieving better outcomes.
Mr Duncan Smith’s pro-marriage declaration was made before same-sex couples were allowed to get married legally in England and Wales and in Scotland, so at that point marriage in Britain was exclusively heterosexual.
Since the Marriage (Same-Sex) Couples Act came into force in 2014 in England and Wales, around 15,000 same-sex couples have entered into civil marriages, a small proportion out of the 240,000 or so marriages annually and a tiny proportion of the overall number of married couples in Britain.
So marriage remains overwhelmingly heterosexual in our country with the complementary nature of fatherhood and motherhood providing an intrinsic benefit for children.
What is the evidence for the contention that children generally do best with a man and a woman actively involved in their upbringing?
It is the fact that such an arrangement, albeit to varying degrees of commitment depending on the parents, attaches to the domestic environment, namely the heterosexually married family, in which children are generally achieving the best educational and psycho-emotional outcomes.
What about the proposition that sex should be confined to marriage?
The widespread acceptance of that ethic among British people before the 1960s was a major factor in encouraging young men and women to get married in the first place, thus enabling many millions of children across the social spectrum to get the benefit.
Added to this, there was a plethora of moral, social and legal factors encouraging couples to stay married and to work through or find a way of enduring the inevitable imperfections and challenges in every marriage.
I know a bit about this from personal experience because in 20 years of Anglican parish ministry I have met a range of men and women with a pre-permissive attitude towards marriage and family life and have been privileged to take funeral services for their spouses. ‘We had our ups and downs but…’ is a line I have often heard.
It is surely no co-incidence that the marriage rates in our country have fallen significantly since sex outside marriage became socially acceptable, down by around 100,000 in England and Wales from 343,000 in 1960, and that the number of children born without married parents is increasing.
For the follower of Jesus Christ commitment to a marriage once entered into is a matter of biblical conviction and so transcends considerations of ‘compatibility’.
For the Christian, the ‘right person’, except in dire circumstances such as marital infidelity or domestic abuse, is the member of the opposite sex to whom they made the promise of life-long commitment in the presence of God.
Comparing the broad state of British society now with the conditions across the social classes before the permissive society kicked in, along a range of indices from mental health to drug and alcohol abuse to crime and educational performance, is it really surprising to find that a society that honours marriage tends to work better for children?
l Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, Sheffield S35 0FU
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