Why marriage still matters

‘How’s married life?” People ask it in a slightly mocking tone, as if it’s rather quaint to think that married life should be any different from unmarried life. One year in, however, I’ve been surprised to find that it is different – in a good way.

This idea is increasingly out of fashion. Nearly half of British babies are born to unmarried parents. And now, in a strange twist on the gay rights movement, straight couples have started demanding the right to form civil unions instead of marriages. One test case on the matter has just found its way to the Court of Appeal.

The couple bringing the case want a civil union in order to benefit from the purely functional, legal advantages of marriage without any of the other baggage that they imagine it brings. It’s unfair, they say, that gays can obtain civil unions and straights can’t.

Girly girls have ruined marriage, the woman of the couple implies: “There are girls who grew up thinking about their wedding dress but I increasingly felt that outside of the fairy-tale of it all, that I do not feel like a wife. It just doesn’t square with me,” she told the BBC.

Well, I suppose they should be allowed to do what they want, but it’s a deeply depressing idea.

The joy of a union between two adults is amplified by the symbolism and cultural importance of marriage. Without it, there’s not much difference between getting married and filing a tax return.

Weddings don’t need to follow a formula: a large dress, a cake, a drunk uncle (though as it happens, my wedding had all three). I’ve been to weddings small and large, formal and informal, town and country.

I’ve witnessed the traditional Christian ritual and secular versions, including one in which the congregation, asked to promise support for the marriage, said: “We do.” But I have never heard of a marriage certificate obtained for legal reasons, whether it’s a visa or an inheritance, that didn’t go badly wrong. Continue reading

  • Juliet Samuel is a columnist at the Telegraph Media Group, London.


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