The legal definition of marriage is "the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others". This is the gold standard to which Sir Paul Coleridge, a Senior High Court Judge, has aspired in announcing the formation of the Marriage Foundation; a service which he hopes will protect the interests of children by providing information on marriage, commissioning research and campaigning for "family-friendly" policies.
Sir Paul's motivation is clear and the result of his many years of experience in this area. He says: "examine the background of almost every child in care or the youth justice system and you will discover a broken family."
Having spent over 30 years working in the family justice system myself, I certainly empathise.
However, the question remains: how do we address this problem in a way which can effect real change? In answering this, Sir Paul's opinion and mine differ.
Sir Paul has said that Governments cannot resolve the problem of broken families through legislation. Instead he argues that the creation of more, and longer lasting, marriages has to be a product of a shift in societal choices, attitude, behaviour and culture.
But this is no longer about supporting marriage over cohabitation, nor for that matter heterosexual relationships over same sex ones. It is about improving the lot of all children following parental separation. When viewed in this way it is difficult to see how the societal shift he advocates can be achieved other than through political intervention.
Improving the prospects for children following parental separation needs more than dropping the issue into the lap of "Big Society". It needs government to take the lead.
Sir Paul is right to have started a debate. However, the most effective solution to the societal problems that flow from parental separation is for government to fund an education programme designed to stop parents talking about their personal "rights" and instead help them focus on the responsibilities, obligations and sacrifices that come with parenthood. Only then will we have a chance to break the cycle of post separation parental failure.
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