In Pursuit of Modern Marriage

I was amazed to go into the men’s toilets at the Herald Sun. There was a new notice from the Health Department with the title: ‘Attention: Wash your hands’. There were also step-by-step instructions, with pictures, on how to do so—four pictures to establish how to wash your hands.

It is absolutely extraordinary that we should need to be reminded of something so basic—not only basic hygiene, but basic courtesy.

In a sense this is a far more profound exercise but it seems to me in the same way extraordinary that we need to have a book to tell you that marriage is good.

It is unbelievable when you think about it that you need to make the case for marriage. Unless you thought there are a lot of forces arguing the opposite or at least diminishing the institution of marriage. It is like one of those things where government passes law that tells you not that something is being fixed but tells you there is a problem that someone thinks this law might address.

It is a sign of trouble. One of the ways we have seen this is in the recent debate over same-sex marriage. Leaving aside the issue, the whole idea was, the rhetoric was, we need same-sex marriage because it is equal marriage; we need equality, that same-sex marriage is an instrument of equality. This redefinition of what marriage is about is extraordinary. Marriage is not an instrument of equality, to show that you are broadminded, or to welcome various minorities. It is nothing to do with that.

It is about getting people to make a lifelong commitment, to raise children in the best possible social unit. Kevin repeatedly goes back to that in his book, quite rightly. It is about the children. Two adults, three adults, four adults, whatever grouping together is of no interest to the country.

We do not need to legitimise friendships. We do not need a document to legitimise that you are particularly close to any other adult. You can have that relationship. You do not need society to bless it. The reason for marriage is that it is an attempt to make people commit through the power of tradition and putting up an ideal. Another reason for marriage is to make people commit not because we are particularly interested that Jill stays Jack, but that the parents stay with the children.

It is about the civilising influence to produce the next-generation that will be great citizens. That is particularly important because you have to make lots of concessions in this argument. You always have to acknowledge there are lots of people from good families, and children from good families that turn out bad. You also have to acknowledge that there are lots of children from dysfunctional families that turn out good. You do not need to look far and wide to find these.

The evidence is absolutely clear: the best chance to raise a happy child, a well adjusted child, a safe child is in an intact marriage with a mother and a father.

Unfortunately those facts have been steadily washed away by a fear of being judgemental, replaced by desire, that it is honourable, to include as many people as possible. As a result, children are paying the price and what we have seen with the same-sex debate, as with the general attitude to marriage that it is about the adults.

I admire people who feel loved. That is great. But that is not what marriage is about. Think of the children. I think of the fact that some 50,000 Australian children each year go through the trauma of divorce. It is a trauma for them.

Very few children say “I wish my parents would divorce.” So often they are not taken into proper consideration. It is a tragedy for them. Almost inevitably, even with remarriage, children are being asked to make huge sacrifices. This is why it is so important that we have tradition, an expectation, and an ideal to keep people together.

I find one of the most extraordinary figures in Kevin’s book, that one third of people who divorced, five years later realise it was a mistake or say it was a mistake and forty per cent say the marriage could have been saved.

That is really sad particularly for those who have children. Children pay the biggest price for their mistake.

If there was a greater social sanction for marriage, how many of those marriages could have been saved.

When you remove fault—as in no fault divorce—you are going to get lots more broken families and lots more broken children. That is the way it is.

Another statistic that I find remarkable is that we have made a temple, a new religion, in the body: worship yourself and happiness. This is a part of this drift to marriage as a temporary thing for our personal convenience and if we find someone nicer, let us not commit too much, we will break the marriage and go somewhere else.

If we have got this worship of the body what does it say according to statistics and studies that Kevin produces that people who are not married tend to have a lower life expectancy. They tend to be unhappier and not so rich. In particular, the lower life expectancy is equivalent according to one study of smoking a packet of cigarettes regularly.

It is extraordinary if we are really so worried about the health impact of cigarettes then why not the same about marriage?

We need to really think about these things.

Kevin has some good ideas about what government can do, and what people can do to keep their marriage going. It means work. It is a sense of a journey being taken, with hurdles overcome, the sense of achievement, and not enough people know that.

This is a tremendously important book, for all Kevin says on laws, it is the fact that he writes it, engages it, and makes it an issue.

In the end it will be a counter-cultural movement that saves marriage. Not so much a law.

It is people thinking about it, honouring it, realising all the challenges to it, realising what it is they must protect and in that regard, I am sorry that this book had to be written. I am tremendously glad that it has been written. It is a countercultural movement that needs your support.

These are edited remarks of Andrew Bolt from the launch of Maybe ‘I do’ — Modern Marriage and the Pursuit of Happiness, October 2012.

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