LEICESTER, United Kingdom – An English Catholic bishop says the shrinking number of marriages in the country is causing negative social consequences, the implications of which are only beginning to be worked out, not least for the well-being of children.
Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury was speaking Tuesday during the first annual diocesan Mass in celebration of marriage since the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020.
Speaking at St. Columba’s Church in Chester, the bishop said the consequences of the collapse of marriage in the UK will have an effect on the country.
“The headlines do not seem to exaggerate when they speak not merely of a cataclysmic decline, but of marriage disappearing in Britain,” he said.
“So exceptional in these early years of this 21st century that most recent statistics show a 61 percent decrease of marriages in our land; the lowest number of couples entering marriage for almost two centuries; and the first time in our history that more children are born outside of marriage than in a married home,” Davies told the congregation.
The diocese issued a statement noting the Marriage Foundation has consistently shown in its research that marriages between men and women are inherently more stable and enduring than any other form of relationship.
One of the most recent studies by the charity, founded in 2012, revealed that by the age of 14, some 46 per cent of children in the UK are not living with both natural parents.
The Marriage Foundation maintains that UK government family police is now focused on the provision of childcare and encouraging all parents into work instead of supporting marriage, even though the institution is proven to be the most secure for children.
The group notes that during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, a temporary ban on weddings followed by tight restrictions in England and Wales saw the number of marriages collapse by 61 percent, the sharpest fall in any country in Europe.
In his homily, Davies told the married attendees that at a moment in history “when marriage is increasingly being lost sight of,” the witness they have given simply by living the promises of marriage through every trial and difficulty “is no small thing, and today shines out more and more brightly.”
“As Christians, we are not merely being called to lament such a loss but to allow the Christian vision of marriage to be seen anew as a radical call to holiness, [which is] really the same thing as happiness,” the bishop said.
“To propose marriage as it came from the hand of our Creator as the faithful, lasting union of man and woman open to the gift and responsibility of children. To declare our faith in marriage as a Divine calling, lived out in human relationships which bear the disorder and frailties of sin, yet with the promise of unfailing grace and the hope of salvation,” he said.
On Sept. 11, the Marriage Foundation issued statement saying “cowardly senior politicians” should stop ignoring the evidence and stand up for marriage by ending anti-family policies that penalize poor couples who get married, and embrace new “Hungarian-style” reforms to boost marriage rates.
The study, “Family Unfriendly Britain,” argues that the government should actively seek to bring in measures that would boost marriage rates and cut family breakdowns, pointing to a Hungarian policy that “dramatically reversed the decline in couples marrying over the last decade with a slew of measures aimed at boosting marriage and fertility rates.”
“If the UK has any kind of family policy, it revolves around childcare and getting parents into work. Aside from regulatory changes, government almost entirely avoids distinguishing marriage, the family form most closely associated with couple stability and beneficial child outcomes. It is nine years since any cabinet minister gave a serious speech discussing marriage,” the study says.
Harry Benson, Marriage Foundation’s Research Director, said the contrasting fortunes of marriage in Hungary and the UK are a direct result of years of differing government policies.
“While Hungary has passed a slew of pro-family, pro-marriage polices, policymakers in the UK have not. Indeed, governments of all colors have maintained the couple penalty in the benefits and tax system,” he said.
“The pernicious effect of this is to actively dissuade people from marrying, especially those of the lowest incomes, where the penalty is most acutely felt. This is why the big decline in marriage has been among those in the bottom socio-economic groups, while the vast majority of richer couples, including eight in 10 senior politicians, are married,” Benson said.
Sir Paul Coleridge, founder of Marriage Foundation, said “the million-dollar question” is why governments and political parties of all shades of opinion “have such an aversion to marriage,” when this research shows yet again that it is the single most powerful antidote to family breakdown.
“Is it just that they are all afraid of being accused of hypocrisy when they almost universally embrace it in their own private lives but don’t support it openly for the less well-off, who would benefit mostly from making such an open and explicit commitment?” Coleridge asked.
He noted in a recent last poll, 80 percent of young people aspire to achieve a successful marriage, so any pro-marriage policies would be popular – “yet the ‘couple penalty’ stands like a roadblock in the way of the fulfilment of their aspiration,” he said.