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Marriage fights poverty far better than government does

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

By on Friday, 9 March 2012

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.


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.

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.

  • Paul Halsall

    I entirely agree that poverty is a major issue, and that children are much better conceived and brought up within a two-parent family.  (The exact form of such families may vary though: my mother and step-father both took massive care of me and my sibs when we were young).

    But if the Catholic Church in the UK were really concerned about poverty right now, it would be campaigning not on issues such as marriage equality (which has marginal to no impact on poverty), but on opposing the companies (WONGA, QUIDQUID etc) which are abusing the poor through a massive advertising campaign to promote the sheerest usuary (with interest rates at 4,000-16,000% – yes you read the right).  Even standard banks, who can borrow money at .5% or less, are charging 29%+ on many loans.

    But attack usury?  You never hear a word from the church.

  • Morys Ireland

    While welfare spending is never going to end poverty on its own, government cuts will push more people into poverty. You only have to look at this week’s announcement that the government is laying-off 1500 disabled workers to see that.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Actually, the Church runs numerous credit unions which are designed to help people who might otherwise be the victims of loan sharks. This is a matter which like so many others deserves more attention, but it is not accurate to say that the Church is silent on this.

  • Anonymous

    It is certainly true that the Catholic Church can be proud of its record in establishing credit unions. However that does not really address Paul Halsall’s point that while bishops are happy to speak out on matters relating to sex, they have not made any public statements recently on the problems caused by usurious loan companies.

    A pastoral letter condemning the pay day loan sharks, warning the faithful to avoid them and calling for a change in the law would have been very welcome.

  • Paul Halsall

    Catholic Credit unions are all well and good, but they hardly address the major issue of the massive daily promotion of usury (actually an issue discussed rather a lot in the Bible as a way of oppressing the poor)  on TV.

    Meanwhile, The Vatican itself has no got itself listed as a money-laundering centre. 

  • Al Scott

     Can we have some names of Credit Unions in the UK that are run by the church? Thanks.

  • Rory O’More

    I have been single and I have been married, and thankfully I am single again. And in my experience marriage was the way to the ‘poorhouse’ Only a priest, or a person who wasn’t married could make such sweeping statements about the pecuniary advantages of being married. It is not the governments fault because people spent money that they didn’t have (money that in fact didn’t even exist) and now they have to repay it. My dad told me. “If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it”…..After all we have been given the gift of free will and the ability to make choices. Whilst I deprecate the idea of loan sharks, it is not possible for such people to make a person borrow money, it is a matter of free choice. …As for marriage, it is an act of insanity for anybody to marry anybody else, and anyone who does so of their own free will, is responsible for whatever trouble comes along.

  • AidanCoyle

    Indeed, Patrick. Perhaps Vincent Nichols and Peter Smith could compose a letter on this to be read in all churches in the land during Mass one Sunday. Or perhaps they don’t consider the issue of sufficient importance to merit such a move, unlike the much more troubling issue of allowing two men or two women who love each other and who wish to make a public, stable, life commitment explicitly within a framework of marriage from doing so…

  • Trockfield

    There is no evidence that children raised by gay couples are disadvantaged directly as a result of the experience in any respect, in comparison to the children of heterosexual couples – none whatsoever.

  • Paul Halsall

    I thought this might be a good idea.  While there do seem to be Catholic credit unions in Ireland and the US, I cannot by a simple google search find any in the mainland UK.

  • Oconnord

    Credit unions here in Ireland are secular. I’m in two and neither have any links to the church. I’ve never known of any that are in any form catholic. 

  • Al Scott

     I work in the field of Credit Unions (Managing Editor CU Newswire) and I am unaware of any specifically Catholic CUs in the UK, Ireland or the States – which is why I posed the question. I might have been missing something.

    In fact the Vatican has a distinctly dubious reputation in terms of financial dealings. There was the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano in 1982, which led to a host of still unanswered questions concerning the Vatican. Then, just recently, it has appeared on a list of countries that are a potential hubs for money laundering.

  • Paul Halsall

    I am entirely happy with children being brought up with one loving parent, or two, and of mixed gender or same gender couples.  

    I apologise for giving the wrong impression.

  • Paul Halsall

    I just watched Milos debate with Boy George [  ]. George won not because he is more intelligent than Milo (he almost certainly isn’t) and not because he is cuter (he *certainly* isn’t). but because he seems to be on better terms with God and with the joy of living.

    Milo clearly knows that you are gay and are not going to change.

    He need to embrace that with joy and find a nice young man to marry. 

    Although I am quite sure he is *really* straight…, Milo just does not want to end up twisted inside like the guy who is the former editor of the Catholic Herald, and who pours out his imitation of an insecure bitter old queen each Saturday in the Daily Telegraph.

    Try attending a few of the Soho Masses – which do not seem, as far as my limited experience goes, to be a gay pick up rendezvous, but do seem to be full of joyful people.

    You really cannot judge gay people by want goes on on Old Compton St or Canal St on a Saturday night, which is no different from what goes on on any high st in Britain on a Saturday night.When you gay to my age, you spend Saturday night in watching shows about musicals and kvelling in the Catholic Herald.  

  • Recusant

    The Church talks about usury regularly – see paragraph 65 of the last Papal encyclical, Caritas in Veritate :”This is all the more necessary in these days when financial difficulties can become severe for many of the more vulnerable sectors of the population, who should be protected from the risk of usury and from despair. The weakest members of society should be helped to defend themselves against usury, just as poor peoples should be helped to derive real benefit from micro-credit, in order to discourage the exploitation that is possible in these two areas.”This is about as clear as possible, from the highest level possible. Please do not try and muddy the water by speaking from a position of total ignorance.

  • Recusant

    If you are happy with this situation then you are a fool. To quote Charles Murray, after a survey of the academic literature : 

    “The family structure that produces the best outcomes for children, on average, are two biological parents who remain married. Divorced parents produce the next-best outcomes. Whether the parents remarry or remain single while the children are growing up makes little difference. Never-married women produce the worst outcomes…I know of no other set of findings that are as broadly accepted by social scientists who follow the technical literature, liberal as well as conservative, yet are so resolutely ignored.”

    (Coming Apart, chapter 8)

    So why are you “entirely happy with children being brought up with one loving parent, or two, and of mixed gender or same gender couples?” This elevation of ideology over fact, to the detriment of child welfare, should shame you, not make you happy.

  • Paul Halsall

    Because real life is more complicated than social surveys might suggest.

    Not to mention that Charles Murray is a an extreme right wing American commentator.

  • Brian A. Cook

     Indeed.  Why quote Charles Murray?  Charles Murray wrote the notorious “Bell Curve.”  Charles Murray has promoted right-wing eugenics. 

  • ms Catholic state

    I’m not sure the coalition care for anybody except their own stay in power.  They certainly aren’t concerned about the emotional or psychological welfare of children or adolescents.  But it is up to the Church to promote marriage and family life and its benefits for children spouses and society.  The Church needn’t wait for the government’s approval. 
    It’s time for the Church to resume her rightful responsibility and talk directly to the people.  She obviously has the best interests of all at heart unlike the government.

  • Recusant

    Because Murray quotes armfuls of survey to back his point, and because it does not matter whether he is right wing or left wing in this case, the data is very clear. I do however think it is telling that you shoot the messenger rather than engage with the facts of the comment, I think it rather goes to prove what Murray is saying.

  • Recusant

    Well it really isn’t more complicated in this case, the data is very, very clear. But even if it wasn’t, why would it be a cause for “happiness?” Maybe acceptance or resignation, but not happiness. I think that you are happy for the parents, and yourself, regardless (and despite) the outcomes for children in this situation. This is, I repeat, deeply shameful.

  • Lazarus

    I suppose the irony of you (and others) wasting your time on discussing the Catholic Church’s views on same sex ‘marriage’ when you could be devoting yourself to, in your view, more important issues has passed you by…?