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Critically discuss the importance of the institution of marriage in contemporary Britain.

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Introduction

Critically discuss the importance of the institution of marriage in contemporary Britain We are continually informed that marriage is in decline and divorce on the rise. Are these trotted out statistics a sign of a major shift in the institution of marriage, or are we simply experiencing a moral panic? Is marriage still a significant part of our lives? This essay will set out to answer these questions. The essay will also evaluate what sway marriage brings to those legally recognised by the state to be married in modern Britain. It will examine the way in which marriage normalises certain forms of sexuality by excluding others. The importance of marriage to certain agencies in Britain will be assessed also. Firstly, in order to discuss contemporary marriage, the history of marriage will be looked at. This will allow for a more informed view of modern marriages. At the beginning of the modern era (16th century) the function of marriage was to unite two families rather than two individuals. The parents and elders of the community were largely responsible for the choice of spouse. There was little chance for the individuals concerned to refuse their family and there was even greater pressure for the bride to-be to comply with her family (Dominian, 1981). Historian G. M Trevelayan wrote of the consequences of a bride disagreeing with her parents wanting to marry their daughter off to the highest bidder: 'If the victim destined for the altar resisted, rebellion was crushed - at least in the case of a female ward - with physical brutality almost incredible. Elizabeth Paston, when she hesitated to marry a battered and ugly widower of fifty, was for nearly three months on end ...read more.

Middle

Another reason for couples to decide to be recognised legally is the simple fact that marriage benefits those who enter it, while cohabitation does not. While most marrying would not cite this as the reason for their decision: love, security and stability more likely to given as reasons - 62% of respondents gave love as the reason (Morrison, 2002). This is said to be due to widespread ignorance among unmarried couples: 'a recent social attitudes survey found that 56% of people - rising to 59% for cohabitees - thought "common-law marriage" conferred the same rights as a marriage ceremony. In reality, there has been no such thing in England since 1753, and legal protection for cohabitees is minimal' (Dyer, 2003). The English law could be said to be punitive towards unmarried consensual unions and does not give cohabitees the same rights and responsibilities towards one another as spouses. When unmarried couples separate, property disputes cannot be settles through the same channels as those used for married couples that divorce. The rights of cohabitees have to be established on the basis of property law principles that depend on how the property was acquired and if it was jointly owned. As a result, cohabitants are in a more vulnerable situation than married couples if the relationship were to break down (Hantrais & Letablier, 1996). This reflects the part the state plays in the private lives of couples: marriage is seen as a relationship between two individuals and the state, the famous words of Princess Diana come to mind - 'there were three of us in this marriage'. ...read more.

Conclusion

Celebrity weddings are also big news for capitalism as has been mentioned previously. The appearance of a celebrity couple on the cover of OK! can push up the sales as well as benefiting bridal shops etc as individuals rush to copy their favourite star. Capitalism hides the real side of the wedding industry by romancing the heterosexuality involved in marriage. Ingraham draws attention to the way this ideal masks the ways in which it protects the racial, class and sexual hierarchies in place: 'practices reinforcing a heterogendered and racial division of labour, white supremacy, the private sphere as woman's work, and women as property are reinforced' (Ingraham, 1999) within the wedding industry. In conclusion, whilst it cannot be argued that marriage is on the wane, this does not necessarily mean that it is any less important than it once was. What we have witnessed is a change in attitudes towards marriage. It is no longer a familial process in which individuals have little or no say but a union in which both parties enter willingly and for personal reasons - love and support for example. The individualisation of the society in which we inhabit means a lessening influence of the state on personal lives whilst, the way in which personal relationships are conducted have also changed, cohabitation is now a stage many people enter before marriage. The statistics show that marriage is decreasing but this does not measure the perceived importance of marriage to individuals in contemporary Britain. What is obvious though is the critical importance of this institution to the state and capitalism, in particular, the wedding industry. Marriage is still important in contemporary Britain although to whom and why, raises different answers. Sexual Cultures 0205866 CS230 1 ...read more.

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