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The Moral Worth of Marriage

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 16 February 2011

"Who should be allowed to marry?" It may sound a strange question, but that's exactly the issue raised by reports that the government is considering allowing gay "weddings" in churches and other places of worship. If that isn't contentious enough in recent weeks we've also had heterosexual couples demanding the right to have civil partnerships, plans to give co-habiting couples the same rights as those who are married and 24 hour Las Vegas style wedding chapels could be coming to a street near you soon. We've come a long way from the days of the Biblical understanding of the sacrament of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. But does it matter? Perhaps not if you see marriage as just another contractual arrangement like buying a car or a house. But historically we've viewed marriage as uniquely valuable to society - the building block on which families are made and children are raised - which is why it's the only sexual relationship in which the state is entitled to have a say in giving it special status and privileges. A relaxed and laissez faire attitude to marriage may reflect our current society, but what's it doing to our moral climate? When all the data suggests that married people and their children are happier and have better mental health shouldn't the state be actively encouraging marriage? Or is the problem the link between marriage and religion? Is it time we abandoned state sanctioned religious ceremonies in favour of a universal civil marriage?

Chaired by Michael Buerk with Melanie Phillips, Claire Fox, Kenan Malik and Clifford Longley.

Witnesses:
Michael Bartlet -Parliamentary liaison Secretary for the Quakers
Dan Boucher - Director of Parliamentary Affairs, CARE (Christian Action Research and Education)
Rachel Morris - Psychotherapist, agony aunt for Cosmopolitan magazine and author of The Single Parent's Handbook
George Pitcher - Anglican Priest at St Brides' Fleet Street, works for the ArchBishop of Canterbury's secretary for Public Affairs but speaking for himself.

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