Coffee House

A serious political party would defend traditional marriage

6 February 2013

10:23 AM

6 February 2013

10:23 AM

What is the point of a Conservative party that does not see practical value, perhaps wisdom, in traditional institutions such as marriage? There are some less worthy reasons for preserving prevailing structures, such as sheer self-interest, but the overwhelming reason for valuing established institutions is intellectual modesty. We should be aware of our own intellectual and moral limitations and take seriously the possibility that there may be wisdom in institutions that have been valued by people who came before us.

The mere reactionary would give no such reason for respecting the past, but a thinking Conservative in the tradition of Burke and Hayek (neither of whom called themselves conservatives) can see that understanding borne of hard experience may be embodied in long-standing legal structures. Opponents of traditional marriage have fallen into the trap of hyper-individualism. Sometimes without being aware of it, they see society as comprising nothing but individuals and their wants. For them, marriage primarily bestows legal privileges, which are not available to the unmarried. They must have these privileges in the name of equality.

But the hyper-individualists, who lack awareness of their personal intellectual limitations and think it impossible that they could learn from earlier generations, have had their task made much easier by the half-hearted resistance of the Church of England. It has allowed marriage to be so hollowed out that it is already little more than a few legal rights. Traditional marriage at its best involved accepting burdens. It was above all a lifelong commitment. If your partner became ill or disabled you had to see it through – and not walk out on them. If children emerged, as they do in most cases, you had to take full responsibility for them. And you had solemnly to swear to be sexually faithful to each other.


When divorce was based on fault, it gave partners a reason to treat each other with respect. Marriage provided a regular outlet for sexual needs. Partly for this reason and partly because children were expected to emerge except for the unlucky few, non-consummation of a marriage was a reason for annulling it. Without regular sex, some might seek their pleasures elsewhere and unwanted babies might result.

The legal rights to inherit property, and (in earlier times) to recognition in the tax system, only made sense as a package that included the heavy burdens of lifelong fidelity and dedication to your own children. Now that these obligations are so diminished, it is easy to see marriage as not more than a bundle of rights.

It was the great insight of Hayek to see that the evolution of our institutions over time was the same process that legitimises scientific knowledge. As Mill, Popper, and others also saw, the sole reason for trusting human knowledge and understanding is that prevailing ideas have so far withstood frequent attempts to refute them. So it is with traditional marriage. Many alternatives have been tried and failed. To throw it away because of a political calculation that the Conservatives will gain the votes of LGBT activists and their sympathisers is unworthy of a serious political party. But what else is to be expected of leaders who treat politics as an exercise in deploying mass advertising techniques to manipulate public opinion?

David Green is director of Civitas.

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Show comments
  • DrCrackles

    History gives us an idea of what we should expect. 2014 is the anniversary of Bannockburn when the army of Prood Edward was soundly thrashed. Let us go down Edward’s road, let us suffer defeat and humiliation, and let us return to the right path and put the enemies to the sword.

  • jmshigham

    Great piece, almost a flagship of sanity on the issue.

  • retundario

    >>>>To throw it away because of a political calculation that the
    Conservatives will gain the votes of LGBT activists and their
    sympathisers is unworthy of a serious political party. But what else is
    to be expected of leaders who treat politics as an exercise in deploying
    mass advertising techniques to manipulate public opinion?>>>>

    Good article. What is depressing is the pure disingenuousness of this modernising project.

  • David Lindsay

    Thatcherism triumphant. The ultimate privatisation of a socially necessary institution.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Well, it’s “socially necessary” … for you socialists.

      Afterall, you types require public institutions to march through and consolidate leftist authoritarianism. A gaggle of christers? Perfect fodder for your schemes.

      • David Lindsay

        Point proved.

        When this happens in America, it will be done by the Republicans. Like the Tories, they have subscribed to an economic ideology entirely unrelated to their historical norm but which absolutely compels this.

        And much else besides. Why do you think that Thatcher legalised abortion up to birth? Or that Reagan legalised it in California and then appointed only supporters of it, no fewer than three times, to the Supreme Court?

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Don’t know what you typed there, and I ain’t about to read it and find out.

          Your buds the homosexual marriageists appear quite happy with themselves today, I notice. So congratulations on that. You “social conservative” Millipedes appear to be running the table.

  • NiceTeaParty

    Spare a thought for the established Church of England.

    To be banned by law from offering wedding services to gay couples legally allowed to marry.

    Even when the Bishop, the Priest and the Choir Master are all in it together.

    Is the Church any longer a national church with a public duty to hatch, match and dispatch everyone in the village ?

    Or is the National Church now only home to the heterosexuals and the asexuals ?

    Time for the men in dresses to honour their obligations to uphold the established status of the Church of England as a subordinate branch of the state and render unto caesar what is caesar’s.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      All in good time, good fellow.

      This is the brilliance of the Left’s campaign, to use the C of E to enact their agenda.

      You really have to tip your hat to the Left. All public institutions become useful to them eventually, as this one.

  • andagain

    I must have missed the moment when marriage was abolished. Perhaps someone would care to tell me when it happened.

    • Daniel Maris

      The old concept of marriage has been abolished. Overnight. Without even so much as a Royal Commission, a fundamental institution of our society that has been around for thousands of years had been changed out of all recognition.

      • andagain

        It what way has my parents marriage been changed by all this? My cousin is engaged – in what way will his marriage be changed by all this?

        If it makes no difference to their marriages, how can marriage have been abolished?

        • Eaglet2

          What will happen (if the bill goes through) is that your cousin and his fiancee will not be legally husband and wife, but husband/wife and husband/wife. This is the same for every married couple in the land, different-sex or same-sex.

          This has major implications both legally and culturally for our society, because it weakens the institution of marriage. To think of two issues, for obvious biological reasons it weakens the important link between child-rearing and marriage, and it also loosens the importance of sexual fidelity in marriage since adultery will be undefined in same-sex marriage and therefore will not be grounds for divorce. This is unstable and iniquitous, and it won’t be too long surely before adultery will not be grounds for divorce for opposite-sex marriage too.

          Given that a third of our population is married (in the heterosexual sense), this is a big, big issue. I fear that in a generation or two marriage in the popular mind will become (even more than it is now) an optional extra for people who want to do that sort of thing, without regard to the benefits for their children – and also an increase in sexual infidelity. Result – institutionalised social misery and instability.

  • Vulture

    Leaving aside the arguments over Gay marriage for a second, let’s return to the man who pushed this measure through: David Cameron.

    Whatever his reasons for doing so – secret orders from the EU, his wish to please his liberal mates or his missus, and the high number of Gay Tories – have all been canvassed as reasons, but one fact is crystal clear is it not?

    David Cameron has split his party asunder. He has failed in the prime duty of every political leader: namely to keep his party united. Indeed he seems to take perverse pleasure in pissing off his party and trashing and trampling over its traditional values.

    He must surely now go – for a house divided cannot stand ( Lincoln). I hope even his more dim-witted MPs realise that with Dave at the wheel they are heading over a cliff in 2015.

    Time for another tranche of letters to wing their way to Graham Brady’s safe. (He may even write one himself). A coup against Cameron is no longer a joke and has become an urgent necessity – for the party, the country, and for our freedom.

    • andagain

      David Cameron has split his party asunder.

      Indeed. The Conservative Party clearly requires the smack of firm government.

    • Capilano

      I’d give that odds of zero. Cameron did the right thing for the party and the country. He provided leadership.

    • Mark Baines

      “A house divided cannot stand” was Jesus.

  • Tom Tom

    1,2,3……….now Hook’s Law give that a negative arrow

  • Troika21

    What mind-boggling hogwash.

    If the rules around marriage were regarded as ‘regulation’ rather than ancient moral codes, the Tories would be tripping over themselves to change them.

    Marriage: over-regulated, bureaucratic, choice limiting and statist.

  • Loomie

    I’m not sure I understand which people are being described as “opponents of traditional marriage”. If you mean those who favour (or who at least don’t object to) same-sex marriage, I don’t see how seeking equal access somehow makes those people “opponents” of traditional marriage. If that’s not what/who you meant, can you clarify? (I may be getting the wrong end of the stick.)

  • HooksLaw

    Who is attacking traditional marriage? This whole article is a diatribe of utter garbage. Infantile gibberish.
    It just exposes people like Green as obsessives, as well as idiots and bigots. The only thing ‘hollowed out’ is Civitas.

    • Smithersjones2013

      There speaks the resident expert on infantile gibberish. Morning Hooky!

    • Tom Tom

      One day you will have to reveal yourself and introduce the nursing staff……how is Rampton ?

  • LB

    My view, the state should get out of the marriage business.

    Then there’s no problem. Marriage becomes a civil contract.

    You pick which contract you want, Anglican, Muslim, Catholic, Gay, Little Chapel on the Hill, incorporated, quicky weddings for an honest price, …

  • rick hamilton

    I will have to throw away my treasured Oxford English Dictionary. It gives this definition:

    “Marriage – the legal union of a man and a woman in order to live together and often to have children”

    But then it was published in 1995, apparently before Cameron, Clegg and Miliband grew up. Now we know that having surrendered serious decision making to Brussels, the purpose of our parliament is to update our OEDs.

    • HooksLaw

      Gay marriage was legalised in Spain and Portugal and Belgium and elsewhere ages ago. yet you obsess about cameron.
      The opportunity to vote on this bill was ion the conservative manifesto. it was a free vote.

      • Tom Tom

        Belgium has no laws against Incest… no doubt Hookie you are looking for the next “amendment” to reality

    • Ed Trotter

      Dictionaries are very often updated, because language is constantly evolving, which is why English translations of Chaucer exist. In fact language evolves in order to preserve meaning not in order to destroy it.

    • Capilano

      Yes, future generations will remember this day as the first time in history the definition of a word changed.

  • Tom Tom
  • Chris lancashire

    Traditional marriage, speaking for myself, was unaffected by yesterday’s vote. And to claim that every institution we have should be ossified in an unchanging state defies the history of evolution of nearly all our treasured institutions including human rights, Parliament, the vote …..
    Haven’t a clue who or what Civitas is but perhaps it needs a new Director.

    • Tom Tom

      “treasured institutions including human rights” Since when has “human rights” been an Institution as opposed to a Narcissistic Sense of Entitlements ?

      • Chris lancashire

        Fair point, I perhaps used the term too loosely to cover such things as the ending of slavery, habeas corpus et al.

        • Tom Tom

          Slavery never ended – it exists in London today with every indentured Saudi slave. Habeas Corpus is readily suspended in both UK and USA – do read up on legislation.

          • Chris lancashire

            Yeah, whatever …

        • Tom Tom

          Habeas Corpus incidentally is Common Law and at variance with Roman Law so it is not in tune with EU Law

    • Smithersjones2013


      That one word says it all……

      • Chris lancashire


  • toco10

    David Green don’t be such an utter prat.The civilised world has moved on and is no longer shackled by dogma which belongs to the Victorian era.I fully support David Cameron’s initiative on this subject.

    • Tom Tom

      “The civilised world has moved on”….do remember that at the next turn of The Wheel of Fate !

    • Archimedes

      Is civilisation the power of the mob applied, and a political class unwilling to oppose because they may be called nasty things?

      • Tom Tom

        but it isn’t the “power of the mob” but the Power of Oligarchy allied to Media. This policy has never been put to the test on One Man One Vote (OMOV) – it was not put to the Electorate

    • Smithersjones2013

      Yes this is the civilisation that browbeats, bullies and abuses anyone who shows dissent to the current populist media/ poltico fuelled dogma of the day. Frankly that cancred dishonest crust of civilisation is something we can do without.

      Just look at ‘We Love The NHS’ and compare it to the tragedy in Stafford. That worked out well now didn’t it?

      One of the worst things about the left is the deluded disingenuous pretense that modern humanity (in the left’s image) is something far more than it actually is.

      • HooksLaw

        Stick to posting on SAGA

        • Tom Tom

          Why don’t you swallow yourself ?

  • Smithersjones2013

    I fully agree but sadly modern politicians are incapable of understanding such matters (through arrogance, stupidity and narcissism). Cameron will carry on making the Conservatives a minority interests party just as Labour and the Liberal Deomcrats are and as they do their support and influence will dwindle until they are incapable of forming a Government on their own just like the Libdems. Labour will no doubt do the same after 2015.

    • Tom Tom

      Lack of a Classical Education I fear and no reference to Gibbon’s Decline & Fall. At least those who studied Greek and Latin in the past knew about Civilisations

  • huktra

    Traditional marriage remains in the Anglican Communion and no temporal power will negate that.
    Not today.
    Not ever.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      I envy you your naivete.

    • David Lindsay

      I love the idea of the Church of England denying the capacity of the State to redefine marriage.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        It’s too bad you and your Millipedal brethren are going to do it anyway.

        • David Lindsay

          Lost your own country permanently because the majority of its inhabitants finally woke up to the fact that that was what they were. It must be very sad for you.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            I’m just curious though. What is it that drives a leftist like you to fantasize that homosexual marriage and full-on abortionism is “social conservative”?

            It seems diseased to me and to any other social conservative, but I suppose you have your reasons (or more likely, narcotics).

  • cc_star

    How has traditional marriage weakened?

    A world where there is such thing as ‘traditional marriage’ & ‘gay marriage’ rather than just ‘marriage’ seems weird and isn’t somewhere the vast majority of people would want to be.

    You don’t say ‘traditional divorce’ do you?

    • Conservative Cactus

      That’s only because you’re a prophet of the church of equality and diversity. To us normal folk, gay ‘marriage’ seems weird.

      Peter Hitchens is excellent on the subject:

      “For those of us who grew up before the cultural revolution, it just is so that marriage is between a man and a woman. How could two men, or two women, be married? Until very recently, you might as well have asked ‘Why can’t bumble-bees do algebra?’ Or ‘Why can’t buses jump over rivers?’ Answers such as ‘Because they just can’t’ or ‘That’s not what buses are for’ or indeed ‘Why would they want to?’ occur, along with a feeling that the questioner is perhaps having a laugh at our expense. But these days it is not so simple. The questioner isn’t being funny, or at least I hope not, though I think he hopes to catch us out in some way, and regards himself as very clever for having produced this question”

      • Kevin McNamara

        have you canvassed for ordinary folk? i’d be curious since every poll says you’re wrong about what ordinary people find weird.

    • Smithersjones2013

      A world where there is such thing as ‘traditional marriage’ & ‘gay marriage’ rather than just ‘marriage’ seems weird

      Arguably thats what is being offered. Traditional marriage has a fundamentally different definition in the proposals to whats on offer to others.Its like marriage apartheid. Heterosexuals have fully blown sexually defined relationship with what is in effect a sexual imperative (consummation). Everyone else gets a sex-free definition (does that actually deny others sexuality?). Logically any same-sex couple whether intimate or not could have a same-sex marriage (even close same-sex family members). Arguably traditional marriage is actually preserved in the proposals.

      You don’t say ‘traditional divorce’ do you?

      But in future when it comes to adultery it will be quite possible to because same-sex marriage will not be judged to the same standard. In some ways, the new offering, would still seem to be ‘marriage-lite’..

    • Tom Tom

      Yes we have “traditional divorce” after last night. It involves Adultery defined as sexual intercourse between a Man and a Woman. Thus we have Divorce defined like Matrimony but not Marriage ! What a Joke !

  • Nicholas Rogers

    ‘Traditional marriage’ still exists. It wasn’t killed yesterday.

    • Archimedes

      Of course it was. Marriage will become ridiculous because it does not map to any child’s natural understanding of the world. Of course, people will try to educate that out of them, taking advantage of a state education system to pursue equality of perception, but ultimately it will prove impossible.

      • Tom Tom

        The State Definition of Marriage will be ridiculous because Politics is simply RAA – Reductio ad Absurdam

        • Archimedes

          Yes, but the state has enormous power to shape the perception of individuals. It did not move to decouple itself from marriage and simply to recognise the union of two people, and so the state definition of marriage is inextricably bound to the thing itself.

          • Tom Tom

            No. The State is finished. Its legitimacy is gone. This is the clearest sign yet that The State has lost the ability to direct Economics and now seeks solace in controlling people. It is Displacement. It is the old trick of sowing discord to perpetuate power in the midst of abject failure. This is the End of State Power

    • Daniel Maris

      Of course it was, as a legal and moral concept. Marriage as an institution, as a framework for procreation and successful raising of children has been altered irrevocably and with no public debate whatsoever. The concept has been hijacked by those who see it as a matter of personal lifestyle choice, expression of love and equality. All these new approaches to marriage can also be used to justify incestuous marriage and polygamous marriage.