Let marriage be marriage


What is the one thing, which if changed, would help improve Canada.

A single thing that would fix Canada? A tough assignment that . How about one thing that might solve a lot of problems which Canada faces?

When I was studying economic policy 15 years ago, the great social policy problem was “the feminization of poverty.” That term is rarely heard today, replaced by concern over “child poverty.” The two are just flip sides of the same coin — children who live in single-parent homes, usually with their mothers, have a much higher incidence of poverty. That’s why we talk not about poverty in general, but women and children in poverty. Single women with children are more likely to be poor, and poor women have poor children.

The social outcomes of child poverty are well known — poorer health, lower educational attainment, higher unemployment, greater incidence of crime — to say nothing of the childhood innocence robbed from many such children.

The latest census data, released last month, indicated that things are likely to get worse. The front page news was that, for the first time, marriage was in the minority position, having been overtaken by cohabiting couples, divorced adults and single parent families. The data also showed that cohabiting couples break up more frequently than married couples do. Couples who cohabit first, then marry, also have a significantly higher rate of divorce than married couples who did not cohabit. All this, given an already high general divorce rate, means that the likelihood of children growing up in a home with two adults, let alone their own parents, is diminishing. There is hardly a social problem that is not going to be made worse by these trends.

How then to fix it? What can be done to stabilize Canadian families, which is the best way to reduce women and children living in poverty?

One thing would be for our marriage laws and social policies to treat marriage as marriage, and not to treat non-married couples as married.

Marriage law in Canada today does not in fact recognize the basic reality marriage — that it is intended to be an enduring, permanent commitment. Forty years of no-fault divorce have made marriage the only contract which is unilaterally breakable by either party, for any reason, without penalty. All civil laws provide for marriage dissolution, but the no-fault easy divorce regime makes it more difficult to make the investments and sacrifices required for stable marriages. The easier it is to get out of marriage, the less economic sense it makes to invest in the marriage and family. The easier it is to get out, the less commitment is required to get in.

The best social policy for children is an intact family.

At the very least, for marriages with children some provisions of fault and penalty should be restored in the case of divorce. The best social policy for children is an intact family, and the no-fault regime undermines family stability.

The recent census also highlighted that many marriages never form in the first place, with cohabitation replacing marriage in an increasing number of cases. It is not clear what interest the state has in promoting cohabitation, which it does by treating such couples as married in terms of tax law and social policy. In fact, by extending the benefits of marriage to couples who have elected not to marry, the state actively undermines marriage. Given that our census data now confirms the relative instability of such relationships, even in a subsequent marriage, public policy should not be encouraging them. Encouraging cohabitation is even worse for children than the easy divorce regime.

One thing to fix Canada? Let marriage be marriage. That means not treating non-married couples as equivalent to married ones. If the benefits of marriage are sought from the state, the state in turn should require the presumption of stability that marriage brings. Letting marriage be marriage also means taking marriage vows seriously in law; the promise of an enduring marriage should mean something. Easy divorce means cheap marriage, and that is too high a price for children in poverty to pay.


Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Let marriage be marriage." National Post, (Canada) October 18, 2007.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.


Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2007 National Post

Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter



Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.