The vital importance of marriage and of committed parenting in the context of stable family life were spelled out in two thoroughly researched papers, given at the annual conference of the Family Education Trust, in central London on 18 May.
In a well reasoned and compelling paper, Sharon James from the Coalition for Marriage set the current debate on same-sex marriage in the context of a sexual revolution that has been raging for the past 50 years.
Prior to the 1960s, there was a general consensus that marriage is a natural
institution, consisting of the union of a man and a woman, and that it joins together two extended families and unites past generations to future generations.
As such, it entails a pledge of life-long permanence and sexual exclusivity. However, Dr James documented how the state has progressively rejected this historic view and exchanged it for a new understanding. According to the revised model, marriage is all about personal happiness. Along with gender distinctions, it is viewed
as a social construct that can be re-shaped at will; and any rules and obligations that impinge on personal fulfilment must be dismantled.
Dr James described same-sex marriage as the logical ‘last piece of the jigsaw’ in this radically revised understanding. But she then called for a thorough evaluation of the bitter fruit that this new view has already borne, in terms of family breakdown, mental and emotional ill health, deepening divisions in society and massive cost to the public purse.
‘If we accept the new understanding … then we should say “yes” to gay marriage … But the truth is that marriage is a natural institution. It is bigger than the two people involved. ‘The fact that we are men and women is an objective reality. And, if marriage means anything at all, it must involve norms of exclusivity and fidelity. We should campaign for those norms to be restored and then upheld by our government. ‘We should do so for the sake of the children who are the most vulnerable members of our society and therefore those most deserving our care’.
Earlier in the afternoon, Jonas Himmelstrand exploded many myths surrounding Swedish family policy. In the minds of many, Sweden is something of a utopia, with low rates of child poverty, high levels of gender equality and a comprehensive day-care system that is the envy of the world. However, he presented evidence that told a quite different story.
In recent years, Sweden has seen a marked increase in psychiatric illnesses among young people and in discipline problems in schools, along with a decline in the quality of both parenting and day-care. Sick leave rates among women are high, with day-care staff among the top three professions in these statistics. Families are subject to ideologically motivated interventions from social workers.
Contrary to the common perception, Sweden’s family policies have not achieved the goal of creating greater gender equality, since Sweden has a highly gender-segregated labour market, and a high gender pay gap. Mr Himmelstrand, who with his family was forced to leave his native Sweden last year for home-educating his three children, noted that while Swedish children seldom suffer from material poverty many suffer from emotional poverty.
He pointed to indicators suggesting the early separation of parents from their children, as encouraged by Swedish family policies, are having many negative effects.
Family Education Trust