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How necessary or convenient is the legal concept of marriage today?

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Introduction

Essay following family supervision one Laura Jenkins Jesus College, Part II How necessary or convenient is the legal concept of marriage today? Social and legal changes since 1857 have slowly eroded the concept that marriage is "until death us do part". Although most marriages do still end in the death of one partner, an increasing number end in divorce (this number has increased fourfold in the last thirty years1), and many people choose the relative flexibility of merely living together, a situation which would have been impossible a hundred years ago for social reasons. So, in the twenty-first century, how necessary is the concept of marriage? Could we abolish it altogether? For the reasons outlined below it is quite clear that the answer to the latter point is a resounding "no", while the answer to the former is that marriage is still the only legal institution which gives rise to a particular set of legal rights and responsibilities. The first, relatively minor, point to make is that the Church of England remains the official religion of the UK; marriage is an important part of that religion, and while the Anglican church is still the established church of the UK, marriage will remain a necessary institution. ...read more.

Middle

Again, this seems to give the legal advantage to married couples, who find the law enforces a substantial right and benefit which the merely co-habiting partner does not receive. There are also important benefits for married parents, particularly married fathers. A child born to a married couple is registered as the child of both spouses (whether the father is the real father or not), in the absence of contrary instruction (i.e. an alternative father). In contrast, unmarried fathers have no such automatic right to be registered as the parent of the baby; they have to accompany the mother to register the birth, essentially meaning both that they can be shut out of gaining parental responsibility where they wish to play a role in the child's life or can abandon the mother and child and refuse to accept their responsibility at all. Neither of these scenarios are ideal as arguments between parents can lead to one partner being shut out of the child's life, which is undesirable from the point of view of the child's welfare, or enables parents to ignore their responsibility by not, in some cases, forcing it upon them. ...read more.

Conclusion

At the moment, there is no clear replacement for marriage as a legal institution, therefore it is necessary to preserve and provide the benefits outlined above to people within a relationship. It is difficult to see what could replace it: a merely civil partnership would not satisfy the church, or indeed the sensibilities of many people while giving co-habiting partners all the same rights as married partners would not be desirable either, as there are people who co-habit for the relative freedom etc. that it affords them. Thus marriage remains a convenient concept until the lawmakers are able to find an alternative arrangement which fulfils the necessities of marriage in the eyes of the church and law, while balancing the delicacies of social policy at the same time. Marriage as it stands at the moment is probably therefore the best option available from all points of view, although as society continues to change, the legislative must be sure to respond to the needs of the electorate in adapting the law to protect those in co-habiting couples, whether hetro- or homo-sexual, to ensure that there does not become an underclass purely based upon a quasi-religious ceremony. 1 23 Social Trends, 2.15 (1993) ...read more.

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