Archbishop complains of marriage muddle - The Sunday Times (UK)

11 June 2006 - Print Version

Source: The Times

by Christopher Morgan

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has criticised the government for contributing to “a prevailing social muddle” over the role of marriage in society.

Rowan Williams said marriage had “suffered a long process of erosion” and warned that plans to give legal rights to cohabiting couples risked worsening the situation. He added that the decline of marriage had led to colossal social problems.

“The concept of cohabitation is an utterly vague one that covers a huge variety of arrangements,” Williams said in an interview with The Sunday Times. “As soon as you define anything, you are creating a kind of status that is potentially a competition with marriage or a reinvention of marriage.

“I think one of the problems is trying to solve individual and infinitely varied problems by legislation.”

Last month the Law Commission, set up by the government to recommend legal reform, proposed that live-in couples should be able to claim a share of each other’s wealth, including property, pensions and other assets, if they split up and were left financially vulnerable.

Williams’s comments come ahead of a speech he is due to give next weekend on Father’s Day to promote the importance of marriage as a cornerstone of society. He said that this government had been the latest to preside over the undermining of marriage.

“I don’t think I need to spell out the research about educational factors that can be traced in children from unstable or broken partnerships,” he said.

“That’s not to say that single parents don’t do heroic things and it’s not to say that cohabiting couples aren’t often excellent parents day-by-day . . . the question is about what institution in the long run best serves those needs.”

The archbishop said that the muddle about marriage reflected a wider social confusion. The abolition of the married person’s tax allowance had sent an unhelpful message. Associating civil partnerships with the language of weddings had also led to confusion.

“Civil partnerships were specifically distinguished from marriage as a set of civil contracts that didn’t necessarily involve sexual partnerships . . . some government documents suggest a kind of slippage of the understanding about that,” he said. oLord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has claimed that the Anglican communion has been devastated since Williams took over.

In a speech to a theological seminary in America that will be seen as a direct attack on Williams’s ability to maintain unity in the church Carey is reported to have said: “When I left office I felt the Anglican communion was in good heart.

“It is difficult to say in what way we are now a communion. Bitterness, hostility, misunderstanding and strife now separate provinces from one another and divide individual provinces.”

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