I’m a champion of marriage. And a hypocrite.

I wonder if there are any smokers in the government. Or overweight people. Or those who drink too much. Or drivers who speed. Or maybe MPs who bend the rules with their expenses. In fact anyone who falls short.

Because if there are, they shouldn’t be backing policies aimed at restricting smokers, or promoting good health, or encouraging people to drink less, or setting and enforcing legal speed limits, or compensating only legitimate costs.

That appears to be the standpoint of deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman who recently questioned how government ministers who are divorced can support a policy on marriage.

If you can’t practice it, she is in effect saying, you can’t preach it.

Well, actually, you can. And my examples above make precisely this point. Ministers are not in any way disqualified from backing policies on a whole range of subjects merely because they fall short.

Government has to encourage the good and restrict the bad. I doubt any minister would want to be the main champion of a policy if he or she knew they fell short in that area. But it seems eminently reasonable that they could back that policy.

Very much lower down the food chain, I stand as a champion of marriage. I do so because of the evidence that shows the huge benefits and protections from getting married and, hopefully, staying married. I am also very aware that this is a generalisation. There are no guarantees of success just because you get married. The tragedy is not that many marriages fail – some 30% of parents with dependent children and 39% of all couples (see our fab new Key Facts) – but that only 15% of couples who don’t marry stay together.

It’s precisely because we all fall short that we need that promise of ‘for better, for worse’ to give us a decent shot at making our relationship work.

The promise I made to my Kate twenty eight years ago helped prevent us from splitting up within a few short years of our wedding day.  But even though I fell particularly badly short at that time, I decided to stick to the plan but make it work. You can read about my shortcomings here. I can’t begin to imagine how disastrous a split would have been to both of us and to our two children. Not to mention that our four younger children would never have existed. Pretty devastating for them.

Perhaps more to the point, that promise I made helps keep us together today. When I’m grumpy, when I’m tired, when I’m prickly, when I’m a little too harsh, when I’m closed, when I’m judgmental, when I’m dismissive, when I’m not supportive, when I don’t listen, when I’m defensive, when I’m demanding, eventually … eventually … I will remember my promise and I will apologise and I will begin again to treat my wife with the love and care she deserves.

Without that promise of a future together for life, well, I just don’t know. Had we not married at all, I’m pretty certain we’d have been a statistic long ago.

So I’m a champion of marriage and a hypocrite. I fall short. I don’t always practice what I preach. I think that’s OK.

I don’t see why a minister has to be a paragon of virtue in order to see the benefits of marriage – or any particular policy. Actually ministers who are divorced are uniquely qualified to promote marriage because they have at least had a go. The real offenders are those who have chosen ideology over evidence, and thereby ignored the terrible epidemic of family breakdown that now affects one in two children. Divorce is not the problem. It’s the trend away from marriage.

Backing marriage means taking note of the evidence. Falling short is no crime.


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