Getting What You Wished For: Marriage Dying Out in Britain

According to a new report by Britain’s Office for National Statistics, the proportion of Britons getting married “has collapsed to a record low,” and that is a quote. One critic of the current government called it “a disaster for children, families, and society.” But, unlike natural disasters, this disaster is completely man-made.

In 2006, there were approximately 237,000 weddings in Britain-the fewest since 1895, when Victoria was still queen and Britain’s population was about half of what it is today. In fact, “the proportion of men and women getting married is below any level found since figures were first kept nearly 150 years ago.”

The marriage rate for British men is 22.8 per 1,000 and for women 20.5 per 1,000.

Clearly, British marriage is in trouble, and there is no shortage of suspects. Conservative Tories point to politically correct tax policies and government benefits that treat all living arrangements as equal-civil unions. The idea has been to shift “the tax burden away from families” and “provide incentives for all couples to get and stay together.”

Well, maybe there is some sound economic reasons for that, but what is far more important is how these policies shape cultural attitudes toward marriage. And, as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, while culture does precede politics, politics can and does influence culture. And the law, after all, is a moral teacher.

In Britain’s case, this politically correct politics “for a decade maintained that all kinds of families are equally valuable.” Government officials “have campaigned for all references to marriage to be removed from state documents”; and a plan for helping British children “does not even mention marriage once.”

This is why researcher Patricia Morgan says that “[the marriage numbers are] what [government policies] have tried to achieve, and they ought to be congratulating themselves.”

According to Morgan, the government has encouraged the creation of marriage substitutes, what she calls “Marriage Lite.” The best-known of these legally recognized cohabitations is “civil unions.” What started out as an accommodation for same-sex couples has become an alternative to marriage for millions of heterosexual Europeans.

As Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center says, what is going on in Britain is “part of a broad, on-going trend.” Wehner remembers the same Senator Moynihan saying the biggest change he had witnessed in 40 years of politics was “that the family structure has come apart all over the North Atlantic world.”

Bad news-very bad news-because the links between crime and family breakdown are so well-established nobody could deny them anymore. Likewise, the link between marriage and children’s well-being is not a subject for debate-it is documented. And as marriage declines, so does the birth rate.

So, why do societies persist in this? Their worldviews demand it. Their commitment to personal autonomy and sexual freedom will not permit them to make the needed sacrifices to promote healthy families.

And by “them,” I also mean us. The state of marriage in America will be the subject of the president’s meeting with the Pope this week. And it will be the subject of tomorrow’s “BreakPoint.” Be sure to tune in.

This is clearly a case of “be careful what you wish for,” because, sadly, the consequences will not be limited to those doing the wishing.

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