Ever since the Conservatives ventured a policy over the parapet (or almost a policy, or sort-of a policy) on the desirability of marriage, there has been comment from all sides of the political spectrum, from the Simon Heffer's of this world harrumphing that whatever it is that the Tories are going to do it isn't enough, and from the Yvonne Ridley's
of this world wringing their hands and saying that this reflects a 1950s view of the world and discriminates against other equally valid lifestyles.
As I have previously stated, I have views on this - dictated by my own forthcoming nuptials. Every time this issue is debated there is an inevitable response: look at me, look at my family, we're not/they weren't married and they did a splendid job. Anyone who says that marriage is the better choice is denigrating all non-married parents. I'm not convinced by this logic. Marriage is the best state for raising children, not because of the symbolic power it possesses, still less because it is a holy and blessed state, but because all the evidence shows that married couples stay together longer - the ultimate pre-requisite for effective child-raising.
Now, this is not, of course, to say that some single parents are not fantastic, and some married couples appalling. But, faced with a nonagenarian smoker and drinker, and that jogging pioneer who didn't smoke, didn't drink and keeled over with a heart attack at 50, would we say that we shouldn't pick which lifestyle was 'healthier' because both are equally valid? It is tempting, but ultimately futile to generalise from anecdote.
So marriage is best. Does it therefore follow that the state should step in to encourage it? Since I've only just linked to Picking Losers
I really ought to be chary of promoting state intervention. And in fact, I'm not wholly convinced that it is necessary. What certainly is desirable, is for the Government to stop punishing
low-income couples for staying together. It's insane that the combination of reduced benefit and reduced services effectively reward a married or co-habiting couple for separating.
It might be socially desirable for the Conservatives to introduce measures such as making the tax-free allowance transferrable between married or civilly-registered couples. It might also be politically impossible. But Cameron has a belief that talking about a situation can help to imprrove it. He likes to cite drink-driving, which fell more as a result of social unacceptability than of legal changes. Resurrecting marriage might take more than mere precatory words, however.