Skip to Content

Coffee House

To be or not to be married?

10 September 2011

4:33 PM

10 September 2011

4:33 PM

My name is Siobhan Courtney and I am a very happily unmarried mother with a five month
old son. But this week I’m annoyed – really annoyed. I and thousands of others have been given a slap across the face by Conservative ministers who have now changed their minds about giving
cohabiting couples the same rights as married ones. Ken Clarke has rejected proposals put forward by the Law Commission
under the last government. And it’s all pretty basic stuff.

Childless couples would have been granted automatic inheritance rights if one of them died without a will, no matter how long they had been together. Couples who lived together for more than two
years would have been given inheritance rights. And couples who had been together for five years would have been treated the same way as couples who were married.

After the Ministry of Justice’s u-turn this week, the Law Commission swiftly published a statement
saying the current law (which gives no rights to co-habiting couples) causes "hardship and injustice".

On a personal note, I’m not quite on Harriet Harman’s
, but I just don’t feel the need to get married. Getting married won’t make me a better partner or mother. The evidence backs this up. Only recently, the Institute for Fiscal Studies
looked at Millennium Cohort Study data and found that whether parents are married had little or no impact on their child’s emotional and
educational development.

Given that half of British children are now born outside wedlock, you’d think the various authorities would have adjusted for it. I’ve been amazed. When my baby was born, the hospital wrote my
surname on my son’s ankle and wrist tags. I asked the staff to change them as my surname is not my son’s surname. They refused, stating that "unless the parents are married, the baby takes the
mother’s surname". My boyfriend is unable to sign our son’s immunisation forms at the doctors. Daddy is clearly not competent enough to say whether his own son should be immunised – that’s
something only Mummy has the "power" to decide. I am also constantly referred to as Mrs because I’m carrying a baby, despite clearly wearing no wedding ring.

I am not against marriage. I am against being told that I should be married or being penalised because I haven’t done things in the "right order". I’m getting rather bored of being told
we’ve got a "broken society" because parents aren’t married. Marriage is a choice, and one that many make – but equally one that many others don’t, and that should be equally
respected as it’s not the government’s place to tell us how to live our lives.

I’m not tempted by David Cameron’s cash
of £150 a year, packaged as a "marriage tax break" with the promise that it will "morally clean up Britain". This sum won’t persuade anyone to get married who
doesn’t want to. And anyway, the money should surely be spent on education and health rather than being handed out to those who happen to have made a particular personal choice. I’m also not
falling for the claim that the louts who started the riots only did so because their parents aren’t married, as Edward Leigh suggested last month.

David Cameron is clearly obsessed with marriage. Compare and
contrast with Ed Miliband who had two children out of wedlock before finally deciding to get married, despite previously claiming he was too busy. Then, just before his big day, Ed seemed confused
about his own views, stating that marriage is not for
everyone. (I wonder what Justine thinks of his ever-changing views?)

Undeniably the Labour leader is "part of an ever decreasing number of people tying the knot", as
marriages in England and Wales are at their lowest rate since 1862. In
addition, the proportion of children with married parents has almost
over the last 30 years. In 2009 just 54 per cent of births occurred within marriage, compared to 89 percent in 1979. Moreover, only a couple of weeks ago the Office of National
Statistics have now made the decision not to publish figures of children born to unmarried mothers on a quarterly basis anymore. They’ll now be released just once a year. A reluctant acceptance of
a changing society perhaps? It’s no surprise Christian Concern aren’t

The way British people choose to live their life is changing – but the laws, assumptions and prejudices of the governing elite have not changed one bit.

Parents have been arguing about married and unmarried couples for three days now on the website Netmums
resulting in nearly 300 responses – as well as on lots of other online forums. Now it’s over to you. CoffeeHousers, your thoughts please…

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments


The Spectator Comment Policy

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.