NATIONAL MARRIAGE DAY by Neville Rochow SCNews Weekly
Reflections on the revolution of 2004
, September 13, 2014
“In a time of universal deceit — telling the truth is a revolutionary act” — George Orwell.
National Marriage Day is the celebration of a revolution. On this day, 10 years ago, the Commonwealth Parliament told the truth regarding marriage.
Neville Rochow SC
It was a day on which marriage between a man and woman was venerated as a valued social institution. It was a day when the nation, through its Parliament, acting on bipartisan support, set its face against trends in other countries to re-define marriage.
It was a day when Australia chose its own way on marriage. On that day, it struck a blow for marriage, family and children, despite trends elsewhere to the contrary. On that day, it proclaimed legislatively that marriage in Australia is the legal union of man and woman entered into voluntarily for life to the exclusion of all others — just as it had been commonly understood in the law and in society since European settlement and since Federation.
The acceptance of these elements has been that marriage, so understood, is a specific form of legal, personal and social relationship. The first element precludes marriage of the same gender. The second precludes under-age and coerced marriages. Short-term or temporary unions are precluded by the third. Marriage is only lawfully terminated by death or by a divorce pronounced by a court. The fourth element of the definition excludes the possibility of polygamous marriages and other forms of polyamorous unions.
The Marriage Act amendment in 2004 was, in a sense described by Orwell, a revolution.
In so doing, Australia declared itself to be capable of standing apart from many other Anglophone jurisdictions — the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and 19 of the 50 states of the United States — where marriage has been redefined.
Australia has every reason to celebrate the 2004 revolution and to stand firm on that foundation. There is no demonstrated reason for a change in the definition of marriage in this country. The burden cast upon those who favour change is a heavy one.
There has there been no material reason to depart from the position adopted by Parliament in 2004; secondly, it shows that any departure would be contrary to the growing evidence that marriage as defined in the amendment is the most desirable of social institutions upon which to base the rearing of children and the growth of strong social capital.
Married people are more productive, have higher incomes, and enjoy more family time than the unmarried, Linda Waite and Evelyn Lehrer concluded upon their study. This is due to the division of specialisation of labour, as spouses each take responsibility for specified tasks (Population and Development Review, June 2003). David Popenoe and Barbara Whitehead concluded that married men earn 10 per cent to 40 per cent more than similar unmarried men.
Judge Sir Paul Coleridge
Married mothers are less likely to live in poverty, and children are less likely statistically, to live in poverty if they are raised by biological parents whose marriage endures.
Professor Waite observed: “In a variety of ways along a number of dimensions, married men and women lead healthier lives than the unmarried. This includes more drinking, substance abuse, drinking and driving and generally living dangerously among single men. Married women more often have access to health insurance.
“Divorced and widowed men and women are more likely to get into arguments and fights, do dangerous things, take chances that could cause accidents.
“The married lead more ordered lives, with healthier eating and sleeping habits. Marriage improves both men’s and women’s psychological well-being. Perhaps as a result, married men and women generally live longer than single men and women.”
The research does seem unanimous to the effect that marrying and remaining married bring better health outcomes than any other form of lifestyle. The research also seems to be unanimous across jurisdictional boundaries, be it in the United States, Britain, Canada or Australia.
Children who are raised by their two biological parents within a stable marriage enjoy significant advantages. Whether it be in terms of better health, enjoyment of subsequent adult relationships, educational outcomes, children from stable marriages are significantly better off.
In respect of the research on educational outcomes, Coalition frontbencher (now a Cabinet minister) Kevin Andrews observed in his book, Maybe ‘I Do’: Modern Marriage and the Pursuit of Happiness (2012): “Families are one of the strongest influences on the growth of human confidence, mental and emotional wellbeing and physical health.
“Four decades ago, the Coleman report identified the family rather than the school as the major determinant of learning outcomes for children. The results have been replicated many times.
“Children of Indochinese refugees, who had missed months, even years of schooling, and had lived in relocation camps, with scant exposure to Western culture and little knowledge of the English language, were found to achieve remarkable success. The stunning success was not found in the schools that they had originally come from or to which they subsequently attended, but attributable to their family environment. This is just one illustration of the powerful impact of stable marriage and family life on educational outcomes for children.
“Children who grow up in an intact family achieve higher school scores, report significantly less school-related behavioural problems and higher aspirations for tertiary studies. They also receive greater parental nurturance, mentoring and advising.”
It is clear, on the above examples, which reflect only a small fraction of the research that has been done, that stable marriage between biological parents is the best predictor of good outcomes for adults and children and a net contributor to social stability.
In a recent article, social commentator Bettina Arndt cited a British High Court Judge and the observation that “couples” shouldn’t have children if their relationship is not stable enough to merit getting married. The observations of Sir Paul Coleridge were made while speaking before his retirement from a long family law career when his Lordship challenged the common notion that it makes no difference whether parents cohabit or marry. Arndt quotes him: “One [arrangement] tends to last and the other doesn’t” (The Australian, August 23, 2014).
In this the retiring Judge Sir Paul was quoting the Marriage Foundation research suggesting children of unmarried parents were twice as likely to suffer a family break-up as those with married parents. The proportion of children born to unmarried parents in Britain reached a record 47.5 per cent in 2012.
Last year, referring to a Brookings Institution report entitled Knot Yet: The Future of Marriage in the U.S., Arndt made the following observations: “The result, according to the report, is a growing social divide, with well-educated people still tending to marry and then have children, while lower socio-economic groups are more likely to have children in de facto relationships. These children often end up in single-parent families. This emerging difference in marriage patterns is adding to the gap between the haves and the have-nots, increasing social disadvantage.
“Of course there are defacto couples with lasting relationships and thriving children, but the broader patterns tell a different story — just as the 90-year-old who smokes has the bearing on the link between cigarettes and health risks…” (The Age, Melbourne, December 16, 2013).
Some social trends still move alarmingly towards the denial of the child’s ability to identify with and live with their biological parents.
Two of the foremost scholars on family, W. Bradford Wilcox and Elizabeth Marquardt, have recently expressed the social trend in these terms: “Throughout history, marriage has first and foremost been an institution for procreation and raising children. It has provided the cultural tie that seeks to connect the father to his children by binding him to the mother of his children. Yet in recent times, children have been increasingly pushed from centre stage.”
One of America’s most prominent legal scholars and social commentators, Professor Mary Ann Glendon, described the current law and attitude towards marriage and divorce in these terms: “The [current] American story about marriage, as told in the law and in much popular literature, goes something like this: marriage is a relationship that exists primarily for the fulfilment of the individual spouses. If it ceases to perform this function, no-one is to blame and either spouse may terminate it at will….
“Children hardly appear in the story; at most they are rather shadowy characters in the background.”
Whereas a stable marriage is a net contributor to society as well as the well-being of all of the members of the family that is based upon that marriage, divorce is a net cost to the community.
A recent Newscorp analysis of information from the Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Human Services has shown that the financial cost of divorce annually is a huge one.
The article reporting on this analysis informs us that divorce and family breakdowns are costing the national economy more than $14 billion a year in Court costs and government assistance payouts. Each Australian taxpayer now pays about $1,100.00 per year to support families in crisis.
The figures that were analysed in respect of the current financial year show that the government will spend $12.5 billion on support payments to single parents, including tax benefits and rent assistance. Another $1.5 billion will be spent on the administration of the child support system, while the cost to taxpayers from family disputes in Australian courts is $202 million each year.
Commenting on the same set of statistics, social commentator Bill Muehlenberg observes: “The sexual revolution of the ’60s gave us a lot of harmful and destructive things, and no-fault, easy divorce was certainly one of them. By making the marriage contract hardly worth the piece of paper it was signed on, marriage became one of the most easily broken contracts around.”
Muehlenberg refers to the numerous high quality longitudinal studies on the effects upon children when parents divorce. He observes: “So children are often the biggest losers when it comes to divorce” (News Weekly, July 19, 2014).
One of those studies was conducted by psychologist Judith S. Wallerstein, who started interviewing a group of 131 children in 1975. These were children whose parents were all going through a divorce. Dr Wallerstein asked the children to tell her about the intimate details of their lives, which they did with remarkable candour.
Twenty-five years later her findings were published in a book that she co-wrote with Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25-Year Landmark Study.
What was unique about The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce was that it was a study in which the researcher, Wallerstein, stayed in contact with the group of 131 children, along with a control group of children who were in stable families, for a quarter of a century.
Wallerstein wrote: “From the viewpoint of children, and counter to what happens to their parents, divorce is a cumulative experience. Its impact over time rises to a crescendo in adulthood.
“At each developmental stage divorce is experienced anew in different ways. In adulthood it affects personality, the ability to trust, expectations about relationships, and ability to cope with change… but it’s in adulthood that children of divorce suffer the most. The impact of divorce hits them more cruelly as they go in search of love, sexual intimacy and commitment.
“Their lack of inner images of a man and woman in a stable relationship and their memories of their parents’ failure to sustain the marriage badly hobbles their search, leading them to heartbreak and even despair… Children of divorce and those in happy intact families live in separate albeit parallel universes…
“What about the children? In our rush to improve the lives of adults, we assumed that their lives would improve as well. We made radical social changes in the family without realising how it would change the experience of growing up. We embarked on a gigantic social experiment without any idea about how the next generation would be affected.”
No-one has any justification for preaching to Australia that we ought to follow overseas trends. No number of sporting stars, sit-com actors, pop stars or talk show hosts can substitute for the need for careful analysis as to what it is actually good for this country.
Australia must continue to celebrate National Marriage Day with all that it represents beyond this 10th anniversary and well into the future.
Neville Rochow SC is an Adelaide-based barrister who represents clients in both state and federal jurisdictions. He is also adjunct professor at Notre Dame University, Sydney, and at the University of Adelaide law school. The above article is taken from a talk Mr Rochow delivered at a National Marriage Day forum held in the main committee room of Parliament House, Canberra, on August 27. The full-length version of his talk, complete with footnotes and references, is available HERE.