The outgoing Chief Rabbi has criticised David Cameron for not supporting marriage. Marriage is indeed under pressure; as the Centre for Social Justice has demonstrated that for those who are in financial difficulties, the tax advantages of cohabiting discourage the commitment to marriage.
If a government were to support marriage it would need to have a clear idea of what marriage actually means. To the secularist liberal it is reduced to a mere contract between two consenting adults to remain faithful to one another. To the Church of England it is about the three virtues of mutuality, fidelity and complementarity. The third of these is particularly relevant to understanding marriage when one also looks at the etymological origins of the word “marriage”.
It is always helpful to go back to the actual meaning of the word as a means of seeing clearly through the obfuscation of politicians. Marriage as many will be aware comes from the Latin maritare and matrimony from the Latin matrimonium, which are linked with the Latin word marita for married lady. All these words can be linked etymologically with mater, which of course means “mother”. Therefore marriage in its meaning is intrinsically linked with the idea of motherhood.
It is not a major leap from this to argue that to support marriage governments should be supporting motherhood. That is why Chief Rabbi Lord Sachs is right to express his concern that the Government seems to have prioritised women in the workplace over the stay-at-home mother. To be in favour of the stay-at-home mother does not mean that women should not be allowed in the workplace, just as being in favour of marriage does not mean other forms of commitment are invalid.
The Conservative Party itself has made the argument that to be in favour of marriage is not to condemn other forms of relationship. Marriage, as the empirical evidence and our Christian heritage demonstrate, is simply the optimal form of relationship for family life. In the same way being brought up by a stay-at-home mother is the optimal way to be brought up, but that does not mean that other ways of being brought up are bad.
So if the Government can support marriage by supporting motherhood, how is it doing? There has been a repeated pledge to amend the tax system to support those who make the commitment of marriage, yet this policy has still not been implemented. Meanwhile the Government has attempted to change the very definition of marriage from its intrinsic link with motherhood by asserting that marriage now encompasses same-sex union.
The latest controversy has been the exclusion of stay-at-home mothers from tax-free child-care costs. So once again, whatever the rhetoric, the government simply does not seem to believe that supporting marriage is about supporting motherhood. By all means give the support to mothers who have to work; but, surely the stay-at-home mother, who has made such a socially positive commitment, should be included in this tax-free scheme?