The Coalition's failure to do anything for marriage only shows how little it cares about the poor

So, the debate about gay marriage is hotting up. This Sunday every Catholic church in the land will hear a pastoral letter on the subject which you can read here, if you want to get a preview. It is a moderate and thoughtful piece, and it takes what must be the right approach, appreciating the institution of marriage for what it is and suggesting that we do not need innovations. The bishops use the debate about gay marriage to do some useful catechesis about marriage as such, and that should be welcomed by all.

Why?

Marriage is in trouble in most Western societies, and a society without marriage – something that has never been the case until now, but may be beckoning – is a worrying thought.

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The single biggest problem we face in our country today (and I imagine it is the same in most developed countries) is poverty, the sort of poverty that simply does not go away, despite the interventions of the state. A substantial part of British society lives in poverty. The usual figure is one fifth of the population, and it is thought to be growing. Substantial research has been done on the relationship between poverty and family structures, and the overwhelming consensus seems to be (though you do not often hear this) that the promotion of marriage (and the stable family life that should go with it) would help many people out of poverty. The facts and figures gleaned from American research can be found here.

Given that poverty is an evil, it is saddening that it receives such little serious attention; so much discussion of the poor and their needs is subsumed into political point scoring. Even if one strongly disapproves of “the Tory cuts”, it is simply not true to say that government cuts cause poverty; they may well cause suffering to poor people, but they do not cause poverty itself. No amount of government spending on welfare is going to cure the causes of poverty, though it may well assuage the symptoms of it.

Poverty is a moral problem for us all. Consider the case of Tracey Connelly, the mother of Baby Peter. She is a tragic figure, the victim of a long history of family instability. She is a criminal, deserving of punishment, but this should not obscure the fact that she, too, is one of God’s children, deserving a stable family life as we all do. Marriage is the best way to safeguard such stability and the best way to counter poverty and criminal depravity. If Tracey Connelly’s parents had been married, if she had been married to Baby Peter’s father, that child might be alive today.

But despite this, what has our government actually done to promote marriage? What did the previous government do? Answer comes there none. Instead we have a piece of political posturing, dubbed a Clause Four moment designed to rebrand the Conservative party, but which will do nothing to help the victims of poverty. If you need proof that the leaders of the Conservative party do not care for the poor, as Nadine Dorries claims, this failure to support marriage is it.

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