Gold Band : Gold Standard?

Excessive Verbosity Warning. Do not go past this point unless you have at least two packs of kendall mint cake and a powerade about your person. 

[UPDATE : Office for Judicial Complaints now investigating Coleridge J – see end 5pm 15 May]

This weekend I listened to Coleridge J talk about his Marriage Foundation at the FLBA Cumberland Lodge weekend. Although Chatham House Rules apply to that event much of what was said has been widely and publicly aired by Coleridge elsewhere in recent weeks, and the material referred to is in the public domain. For those of you who want a bit of background, I have written about the Marriage Foundation before here and here.

At launch time I scoured the Marriage Foundation material for an understanding of why it was said that we should be promoting marriage specifically rather than stable relationships in general. There is a surprising lack of properly referenced evidence supporting the central tenet of the Marriage Foundation, namely that marriage is the “gold standard” through which we can stem the tide of family breakdown (unless you count quotes from Michael Winner). In the First Edition of the MF Newsletter bulleted assertions are set out in smart boxes. But there are few references and nothing that I could see of demonstrating causation rather than correlation. I think I identified the Government Survey that is cited for the proposition that “Cohabiting people are significantly less happy in their relationships than married people, and children are happier when growing up with both biological parents” – but by itself it doesn’t really help us to understand why that may be so. After a false start I tracked down the source of the following soundbite:

“All the evidence we have shows that individuals fare best, both in childhood and in later life, when they benefit from the economic and emotional investments of their natural parents who reside together continuously and cooperate in raising them.”

to a 2008 publication by David Popenoe, retired academic formerly of Rutgers State University (see footnote 15 here). Sadly that link is no longer valid so one cannot place the quote in context. But it is clear from looking at other publications by Popenoe on Amazon that his work relates to US society, in particular absent dads in inner city families and not to the UK where one suspects the sociological makeup of the population may be rather different. Out of fairness to the MF I have ordered this 2009 publication by Popenoe because I am interested to see whether my skepticism about the relevance and validity of that quote to the situation in the UK is valid (the MF material cites the quote as Popenoe 2009 so either that is wrong or the same quote is contained in the book I have bought). I will report back in due course (bearing in mind that I read about one book per annum at the moment). [Postscript – in fact I think the quote is probably from a 2009 article in Social Science and Public Policy here, and if so this does appear to survey a number of western societies including the UK.] Of course what is notable about that quote is that it is cited in support of marriage, but in fact it is supportive of co-parenting rather than the institution of marriage.

It is easy to postulate why statistics may show that married couples might be more likely to stay together – those in happy stable relationships are more likely to marry, those who marry are more likely to come from a more favourable socio-economic strata, and thus less likely to face the pressure of poverty…So, telling us that married couples stay together more often and for longer doesn’t add much and certainly went no distance towards persuading this skeptic. But then perhaps I’m just dense, because I can’t even work out how one can simultaneously adopt the position that option A is the “gold standard” alongside the assertion that options B – Z are not somehow second best. I don’t know – to me logic is the gold standard and political spin is second best…

But, as it happens, there IS some data in support of the MF core tenets and it is quite interesting. It remains a mystery to me why this is not properly signposted in the publicity material and why it does not seem to have been readily articulated from the outset. Perhaps it is not digestible enough for the media, not capable of immediate explanation in a one-liner. Perhaps it is planned to follow.

Speaking alongside Coleridge J this weekend was a chap called Harry Benson, one of whose hats is as the Communications Director for the MF, and another of which is as Director of the Bristol Community Family Trust. Once this is understood one can easily establish what it is that the MF bases its propositions about the benefits of marriage over cohabitation upon (in part at least). Because Harry Benson has been writing about it for years. He is a proponent of something called Commitment Theory which seems a compelling way of understanding relationships and how they develop – and why they survive or fail. Commitment theory involves the notion of constraints – things that make it harder to leave, and identifies marriage as one significant and deliberately self imposed constraint in contrast to the constraint of owning a house together or cohabiting, which couples may slide into rather than actively select. You can read some more about commitment theory here (p 7) – I don’t pretend to be au fait with this topic, but for me this way of viewing relationships highlights one of the real tensions in this debate – a constraint may make a relationship more likely to endure, but it is also a constraint which can trap an individual in an unhappy or abusive relationship – social or community pressure, financial dependence, embarrassment. The ties that bind…

Benson has written some interesting papers analyzing publicly available statistics about marriage, relationships and families (here). I don’t offer much of a view on that here as I have neither the qualifications nor the time to do a proper job, but as far as I can tell the material has not been subject to peer review or published in any academic journal so it’s difficult to assess it’s validity when it’s not my area. What is evident from the statistical analysis that Benson has carried out is that there are some quite stark statistics which tend to suggest that there is a lower attrition rate for married families. The Benson papers are all really interesting and I confess that the data seems to be at odds with my own views about the issue. It does seem to suggest that marriage somehow adds value rather than just being an indicator of already strong relationships.

But what those statistics also tell us are that there are other significant factors at play, which have a big impact on outcomes quite independently of marital status, other things that we should perhaps be focusing on – low income, young or poorly educated parents – all more likely to suffer relationship breakdown. Whilst this document certainly gives pause for thought, the stats relate only to parents of children up to age 3, and I have seen nothing that attempts any qualitative analysis of how different families deal with parental breakdown – it is too simple to equate parental breakdown with harm as if all broken families suffer similar levels of damage. No doubt the majority of families who find themselves in Coleridge’s court with a private law dispute to be resolved, involve children who have been harmed significantly by parental conflict. But those are at the extreme end of the spectrum. There are many parents who shield their children commendably well from the pain and upset they are going through and for those children family breakdown may be sad and life shaping but not catastrophic. Anecdote tells me that some of the worst cases of harmful conflict involve not the poor former cohabitees but the better off middle class – but wouldn’t it be interesting to explore that with some research? Elsewhere on this blog there is a discussion in comments about the need to educate kids about family life before they become parents. So many things we could be thinking about and planning without getting hung up on marriage itself….I doubt we can change people’s choices about marriage but we might be able to change some of the other contributing factors to family breakdown and to help minimise the impact of it when it occurs through education and support.

Anyway, the MF say they want to start a debate about the benefits of marriage. By all means lets have a debate about what these stats really tell us, about the sociology that has been done to think through these figures. Because I am open to the idea that my gut feeling, my strongly held views – may need to be challenged. I don’t have the skills to do this analysis but I’d welcome input from those who do (guest blog post anyone?).

Cancelled Event

Website for the cancelled event - preachy much?

But let’s be clear: unreferenced soundbites in glossy brochures are not equivalent to debate (in fairness there are a few fuller references on the main site, but in the words of someone “a URL doth not an argument make”). They are attempts to justify a particular position ex post facto. The MF has come out from the off stating firmly that this is not preachy and not a moral crusade. About this they protest too much. They preach. Too much.

This week the Law Society cancelled a booked event that was scheduled to be held at their buildings – it was to be hosted by the Howard Centre for Family, Religion and Society – World Congress of Families and Christian Concern, and Coleridge J was due to speak. It was called “One Man. One Woman. Making the case for marriage, for the good of society” (see image). Take a look at the WCF’s core principles on their website and there is rather too much use of the phrase “natural family” for my liking. Just as the term gold standard implies the existence of a not-gold standard, the concept of a natural family creates a rather concerning question mark about the possibility of an un-natural one. The MF may seek to steer itself away from uncomfortable questions about the moral or religious drivers for its campaigns. It may say it is not religious or on a crusade. It may say that it is not even moral. It may say that it specifically adopts no position on gay marriage. I need hardly to observe that the association of the founder of the MF with this event chimes oddly against those assertions and undermines the “neutral” stance that the PR strategy appears to depend upon.

This is in large part about perception. It is after all a public campaign, and attempt to persuade those of a different view to Coleridge J. And whilst it is harsh of me to criticise launch materials for not setting out all the evidence, first impressions do matter. The poor articulation to date of the research which does seem to exist and which does seem to raise good questions about whether and why marriage seems to add something in terms of stability of relationships, and the unfortunate association of the figurehead of the MF with organisations who are explicitly pro-marriage on religious grounds, and who are clear that they do not accept marriage except where it is between a heterosexual couple for primarily procreative purposes – leaves them inevitably open to criticism that this is all disingenuous, that this is indeed an old fashioned crusade, with a (transparent) PR veneer. The MF, I think, has lost sight of it’s audience, of who it needs to convert. That the MF has so carefully put together a wealth of launch materials without noticing the complete omission of any properly evidenced argument for why marriage should indeed be aspired to, is evidence enough for me that the elevation of marriage to a golden idol is the result of a deep held belief rather than the product of analysis. The stats may affirm a pre-existing belief, but I doubt they would change the views of anyone of a different view. If the MF wishes to persuade the skeptics among us it will have to fall back on evidence, and not the faith that they forget we lack.

And it doesn’t just matter from the point of view of making the campaign a success. When this Foundation is headed by a senior member of the judiciary, perception is also important in a different sense – this is a member of the judiciary who may be asked to make rulings about the family lives of diverse kinds of families: some gold standard, some natural, some one man and one woman. And some empatically none of those things. I’m not saying that judges shouldn’t have opinions. But I wonder what is the perception of those who may be compelled to ask the courts for a legal rather than a moral judgment?

Some other views here: The Marriage Foundation – Heterosexual Manifesto?, The Marriage Foundation – On Solid Ground?.

[UPDATE 5pm 15 May : Office for Judicial Complaints now investigating complaint against Coleridge J relating to Marriage Foundation] [UPDATE 24/05/12 link to Sols Journal inserted on 15 May updated]

53 thoughts on “Gold Band : Gold Standard?

  1. A few points on the equal marriage issue.

    1. The MF’s official position is that it is neutral on this issue so why is Sir Paul Coleridge going to speak at a conference whose very title, One Man One Woman, indicates that it does have an agenda in this regard?

    2. As to the character of the organisations he is thereby getting into bed with (as it were), here is a link to Christian Concern: They are heavily involved in campaigning against same sex marriage. As for World Conference of Families they state on their website that

    “Sexuality is ordered for the procreation of children and the expression of love between husband and wife in the covenant of marriage. Marriage between a man and a woman forms the sole moral context for natural sexual union.”

    They go on to say that

    “Whether through pornography, promiscuity, incest or homosexuality, deviations from these created sexual norms cannot truly satisfy the human spirit. They lead to obsession, remorse, alienation, and disease.”

    As to the other two speakers, here is a video featuring the headline speaker: accusing those who argue for same sex marriage of (“dangerous… totalitarian liberalism”) and here is an article on same sex marriage by Cristina Odone:

    3. I would not only question how MF can maintain a stance of neutrality when Sir Paul chooses to speak at such an event, I would question whether it is appropriate for a High Court judge to do so at all (let alone one who sits in the Family Division). Para.8.2 of the Guide to Judicial Conduct deals with Participation in Public Debate by judges and does not entirely rule this out. However, para.8.2.2 states as follows:

    “Care should, however, be taken about the place at which, and the occasion on which, a judge speaks so as not to cause the public to associate the judge with a particular organisation, group or cause. The participation should not be in circumstances which may give rise to a perception of partiality towards the organisation (including a set of chambers or firm of solicitors), group or cause involved or to a lack of even handedness.”

    I cannot see how it can be argued that Sir Paul’s participation in the One Man One Woman conference does not breach that guidance.

  2. inflagrantedilecto

    Some observations…..In the natural state, untouched by science, it needs one male and one female to make a child.

    In crude Darwinian terms procreation is hardwired into our genes, therefore collaborative relationships that sustain that goal develop… a result of that drive….they are regarded as successful adaptations for child rearing and species survival.

    So a subset of behaviours are then legitimated by the social structures we have developed, again initially for survival. Heterosexual Marriage becomes legitimated to underline its desirability in child rearing and survival terms.

    That is the biological position for marriage….but of course we being humans and at the top of the food chain bring unfolding challenges to that position due our complex psychology and also the advances of science.

    Science and research have also taught us to look and see what is happening from the child’s perspective and we can now identify with a large degree of certainty the necessary and sufficient conditions that need to be present in order for the child to develop unimpaired…..not 100% because we are a perverse species that keeps throwing up contradictions for us to consider.

    So it appears to me that the MF is campaigning for a return to, “a more natural state”, almost Eden like in its construction, one that isn’t touched by science or social evolution…and is mandatory and exclusive only to the heterosexual population legitimated prior to procreative activity….is a preposterous enterprise in the 21st century…..Canute like in its demands.

  3. Zoe Saunders

    In some ways I would really love to support the work of the Marriage Foundation, I am a big fan of anything that would help prevent some of the hideously hostile relationship breakdowns that we have to deal with, but I am rather sceptical about their failure to support marriage equality :
    Some of the things they say seem to suggest there is a less transparent agenda than I am comfortable with.

  4. It’s a nonsense to suggest that because Sir Paul Coleridge choses or is invited to speak at a conference then his views can be assumed as aligned with those of other participants. What kind of crazy logic is that? Also, why shouldn’t he speak out about an issue on which he holds strong views and where he clearly feels he has something useful to contribute?
    Why the negativity on your part about a subject where on your own admission you know so little about?

    • Well I guess Paul if he can speak out on an issue on which he holds strong views and where he clearly feels he has something useful to contribute so can I. I know quite a lot about the subject on one level (i.e. I deal with divorce and separation and its effects every day in my work), but less about the sociological research and statistics.

  5. I’m saddened (and slightly disturbed) to see that the first comment is from the person who has complained. Either this is a public debate or it isn’t. Now there has been a complaint, the Judge can’t comment. I wonder how appropriate it is for the person doing the complaining to then take advantage of that silence? Especially as the complaint is of a hidden agenda.

    As to the substance of this. It’s perfectly possible to be against same-sex marriage and for conventional marriage, without aiming at being discriminatory. Nor does the title of a talk give a comprehensive insight into anyone’s agenda. The argument here is pretty shabby: “we don’t like what we think you’re going to say so we’re going to try and stop you saying it”. Or, as it appears to be better and more pithily expressed, Censorship.

    It would be far better if these judgments were made after attendance at the event. It may be that this foundation has an agenda which people dislike, but I would rather know that than guess it. It may be that such an agenda is inimical to the participation of a serving Judge, but again, I do wonder why the assumption of innocence, which I joined this profession to uphold, is being so blithely ignored. It may be that the Judge is conflicted because he does not believe in same-sex marriage but as I don’t know that, no one has asked him, same-sex marriage is not yet on the statute book and there is no reason to assume that any decision he made would be about its lawfulness (which would be a matter for Parliament) if it were, I am struggling to see why his affiliation with an organisation should lead to the conclusion that he ought not to speak at an event they are involved with.

    Instead of debating these issues, someone has complained. How regrettable.

    • Simon,

      Is the identity of the complainant public? I don’t know if it is. I noticed this afternoon, after publication of the blogpost and the comment, when I added the link to the item about the complaint, that the comment from Anya Palmer was in identical terms to one posted by her on the Solicitors Journal website, but I hadn’t seen that or news of the complaint when I posted. The Solicitors Journal reports Anya Palmer’s complaints in comments on their website as a “separate development” so she may or may not be the complainant.

      I agree with your concern about censorship of views we disagree with. I think we are becoming far too sensitive a society. That doesn’t mean though that being on the bill of such an event does not raise legitimate concern. Whether it raises sufficient concern to warrant a complaint being made is another matter (although it sounds as if the complaint is not actually about the “one man one woman” event but about the launch speech of the MF, which was couched in far less controversial terms than the online brochure of the One Man One Woman event). And quite apart from whether such complaint is either warranted or ultimately made out, it does not seem terribly surprising that a complaint has indeed been made, knowing how sensitive an issue it is.

  6. I find proposals for the marriage foundation to be just another manifestation of patriarchy, albeit with slightly more humane motives (because for once the feelings of children are being considered).

    These slightly more humane motives can be contrasted with the vulgar economic motives that drive the patriarchal family legal system, which as we know reduces men to soulless wage-laboring slaves and reduces women to soulless domestic slaves, and therefore does an excellent job of reinforcing gender stereotypes.

    A Marriage Foundation is not the answer though. If we really want children in this country to flourish, fathers need to be brought back into the picture. The fact that Feminism hasn’t already helped to accomplish this, by doing away with the above-mentioned stereotypes, is proof enough that feminism in this country was either 1) an utter failure or 2) co-opted by patriarchal corporate and government interests.

  7. Lucy,

    Quite right. It may be that Anya Palmer has simply publicly accused a Judge of breaching the judicial code and NOT made a complaint. Not that I regard that as any better.

    I think it’s sad that you aren’t surprised a complaint has been made. These issues are for debate. Complaining is a way of not having a debate, but of making someone justify themselves to a third party. That isn’t just about over-sensitivity but about the fundamentals of how we feel it appropriate to deal with controversy. I intensely dislike the fact that our profession feels that complaint is now the way forward.

    The point of a complaint is to suggest that someone is actually unfit to do their job, or that their performance may need to be monitored. It isn’t to make a political point, to prevent debate about difficult issues, or to express personal dislike.

    It seems that here the equation is MF (I deduce) hates same sex marriage + Judge supports MF and therefore (I deduce x 2) hates same sex marriage = Judge can’t do his job properly (although he will almost certainly be retired by time any legal decision on same sex marriage has to be made). Thus analysed, what IS the complaint? It is that the complainant doesn’t like what they assume the Judge’s beliefs to be and are utilising the complaints mechanism to ensure that he suffers for holding those assumed beliefs.

    In my view that is both censorship and pretty revolting. I’m not sure how the “sensitivity” of the issue factors in. If that means anything, it is that the more upset people may be, the less inclined they are to actually try and argue their corner and the more inclined to stifle the opposite view. I became a lawyer precisely to ensure that this didn’t happen. A society should be judged by how it treats its most unpleasant views. Dollars to donuts that our complainant believes that burning an American flag in public is legitimate expression. But a Judge trying – imperfectly or otherwise – to promote marriage…?

    • Simon,

      I said that I wasn’t surprised a complaint was made, not that I thought it was a great idea to make one. That said, I don’t think we can be too critical of a complainant for invoking processes that are there for all to use, and for the due process that follows. People in all walks of life are subject to complaints processes, judges are not different. I’m not sure whether we know if the complaint was made by a member of the bar or someone else. I’m interested to know if the complaint is made by a member of the public anxious about their own case, a lawyer, or a person with a political agenda using the complaint as a means to hamstring the activities of the MF (or a combination of some or all the above). I don’t suppose we’ll find out any time soon though.

      Leaving aside the question of the best way to deal with concern about the behaviour of the Judge, I think that you are maybe missing the point. I don’t think the anxiety can be reduced to such a simple equation as you suggest – it is not about the risk that this judge may be asked to rule on same sex marriage one day, and that he may not be impartial in doing so. Rather, it is about the anxiety that persons who are (or were) part of a non-traditional family unit, such as a same sex relationship (but potentially I think including persons arguing for enforcement of a non traditional heterosexual family arrangement), and who come to the family court for a decision about that family may lack confidence in the impartiality of the judge. That is a legitimate concern to air, and I would like to hear a response to it. As you say, we are unlikely to hear it now.


  8. Discombobulated (big time)

    You’re right Lucy, sight has been lost of the target audience, which is rather ironic!

    I’m all for freedoms of speech etc., but he’s a judge and needs to stay out of such matters, because sometimes, the perception is more powerful than the reality!

    I’d like to know his agenda, because there’s lots of rhetoric but little substance if you ask me.

  9. Simon,

    In many respects, I can’t help but feel that a complaint to the OJC now is probably the best outcome. A judge has chosen to enter into a policy debate in a very public manner. If one applies the oft-quoted test of R v Sussex Justices ex parte McCarthy—all that stuff about justice manifestly and undoubtedly being seen to be done—and asks if Coleridge J, when dealing with a non-traditional family, Sch 1 Children Act matters for split-up cohabitants, or perhaps litigation over a cohabitation agreement, would be seen to be manifestly and undoubtedly unbiased then answer is (to me a least) “…..err, hmm, probably, but…hmm, yeah…maybe?”.

    Now I’m not claiming any great eloquence at the best of times, but it seems to me that if the answer of a reasonably broad-minded member of the public is quite so equivocal there’s a reasonable argument that the OJC should at least take a look. If, having taken an objective look at what Coleridge J is saying they feel that it isn’t an issue, then that’s great. If not, I’d rather it was dealt with now then leaving the judiciary (even more) open to the accusation they’re all a bunch of worn-out, out-of-touch, egotistical crackpots who just do what they like… 🙂

  10. Anya Palmer’s comments are surely mischievous, seeking to define someone’s views through the company they keep. It would be intolerable and intolerant for any open debate on marriage to exclude the large body of opinion represented by Christians (and indeed other religions).

    We must accept that this is – or has been – a Christian country and its laws and ethics have been moulded at least until recently by Christian principles. Many people still aspire to a Christian marriage.

    While I am a strong supporter of same-sex marriage – and an atheist – I have to accept and recognise this. I also recognise that the churches have had important things to say about these issues, and their views should not be dismissed out of hand. They should be debated, not suppressed.

    At the same time the religious must understand that they do not have a monopoly on marriage. Marriage – it seems to me – is a secular and a legal contract, which may be celebrated through a religious sacrament if the parties to it wish, but it does not need to be.

    As a second point, we would be naive to think that judges do not have strong opinions on the issues of the day, particularly those which affect their working lives. Coleridge clearly is not the only judge who has given his support to the MF and it must surely be the case that his experience and perspective will be an asset to such a foundation.

    Rightly or wrongly he would not be the first judge to make his views public. One thinks of judges like Lord Denning or Brenda Hale who have sought to use their positions to change the law and transform society – I don’t think what Coleridge is doing amounts to anything like that.

    By seeking to censor and prevent debate, the complainant has turned what may well be an honest attempt to stimulate debate into one to promote an agenda, thereby revealing his or her own agenda and unwillingness to engage with the debate.

  11. I think regarding the World Congress of Families conference, it does need to be made clear that this was not necessarily meant to be a debate as such. Looking at the list of speakers, 4 of the 9 are from organisations that expressly oppose gay marriage, 1 is Christina Odone (who as a Telegraph columnist might fit into the former group—and her views are well known)

    Of the remaining four, I don’t know what Peter Duckworth’s views are, although I understand he would have spoken from a religious viewpoint. Phillip Blonde of ‘ResPublica’ doesn’t seem to take a view on the issue—there is some material on the ResPublica website arguing against gay marriage but it doesn’t appear to take a firm view on it. Nobody knows what Sir Paul thinks. Ditto Chris Ford of “Explore”.

    Now call me pedantic, but I really don’t get how you can have a discussion about gay marriage without anyone either from the a group that openly supports gay marriage—or at least one that speaks for the gay community.

    It would be quite proper for the Law Society to host a genuine debate on gay marriage. I’m afraid I don’t think it ought to host a symposium for opponents of gay marriage. There is a real risk that the Law Society would have played host to homophobia, and I think the Law Society’s duty to its homosexual members ought to preclude it from doing so.

    • Jim,
      Peter Duckworth’s views are that he is anti-gay marriage on religious grounds (I’ve read a recent article to that effect by him).

  12. Complaints procedures are there to complain about peoples’ performance in their jobs – not about their political views. I think the proposition that this is a job related complaint is a huge stretch: even if (massive and unpleasant if) you assume that because someone is committed to traditional marriage they will discriminate against someone not in a traditional marriage (and please note how far we already are from “he hates same sex marriage” here), any ruling will be in respect of two people in precisely the same position. Where, exactly, is the room for discrimination or bias? Is it seriously being suggested that a Judge would refuse to give a decision?

    Moreover, this is a recusal issue. On what basis is it being said that a potential recusal application justifies a complaint? Judges regularly get applications to recuse themselves – it is one of the fastest growing litigation sports. But the test is what a reasonably robust member of the public might think if they knew all the facts, not what someone might fear because the Judge was once going to give a speech at a banned event (and are the Law Society a bunch of pusillanimous wallflowers or what?).

    It isn’t the political correctness/anti-religiosity aspect of this that concerns me – people whose knees tremble with fear and self-regarding outrage at a contrary view have always been with us. Rather, it is that we have not learned that unpleasant methods are invariably adopted by unpleasant people and that unpleasant people are unlikely to advance any cause – least of all their own. If same sex marriage – which I support (as did the early Church) – is to be viewed as a serious option, it needs to persuade people of its merits and to divorce itself from attempts to launch personal attacks on those who might disagree with it. Ultimately, in my view, the cause is less important than the character of the people who promote it.

  13. I find this initiative perplexing in view of the 2010 study by the Institute of Fiscal Affairs: “Cohabitation, marriage and Child Outcomes” IFS Commentary C114. This study found that purported advantages of marriage were less than previously believed and that many of the advantages if not all come from the educational, socio-economic and other differences between those who marry and those who do not. For example it found that:

    “• There is a vigorous academic and political debate about the benefits of marriage, which has partly focused on whether encouraging parents to formally marry, rather than to cohabit, will provide a better environment for children.
    • We have shown that the children of married parents do better than the children of cohabiting parents in a number of dimensions, particularly on measures of social and emotional development at the ages of 3 and 5.
    • But we have also shown that parents who are married differ from those who are cohabiting in very substantial ways, particularly relating to their ethnicity, education and socio-economic status, and their history of relationship stability and the quality of their relationship even when the child is at a
    very young age. Once we take these factors into account, there are no longer any statistically significant differences in these child outcomes between children of married and cohabiting parents.”

    Why is this not the subject of policy?

    It would be more helpful to advocate policies which are geared towards reducing inequality. This approach would however require acceptance some uncomfortable truths about the society we live in, rather than advocating motherhood, marriage and apple pie. It also would require us to acknowledge that many of us are just plain lucky and that parents in care proceedings have been born into unlucky circumstancs in an unequal society. The response to that is to say that many people are disadvantaged and don’t have the same issues. To which the response is that of course that’s true but it misses the point: of those who do have these problems, most will have backgrounds of disadvantage and trauma.

    • Thank you Norma, that sounds really interesting. I will have to look it up when I have time. If you have a link perhaps you can post it in a subsequent comment for us?

  14. ‘the complete omission of any properly evidenced argument for why marriage should indeed be aspired to’

    you know why that is? it’s because there isn’t one.

    this abuse of statistics is the usual nonsense. marriage is better because it means people are more committed – people appear to be arguing. classic statistical rubbish. i’ll join in: the majority of violence within relationships is perpetrated by men. what’s the cure? all children should be brought up by two women. while i might actually think that’s not a bad idea, it’s the most flimsily-based of premises.
    those who somehow think marriage is ‘the gold standard’ (scuse me while i vomit here) base it on their adherence to a sky fairy. it is simply another example of the damage religion of all sorts continues to visit on our society.

    i have no idea of the status of some partly-discussed complaint re the views of colerdige, but i really don’t think we can say that disputing the views of a very prominent member of the judiciary amounts to censorship. if it’s censorship, it’s bloody ineffective censorship. he gets to air his (frankly dodgy, old-fashioned and, it now seems quite likely, bigoted) views on radio 4’s today while the rest of us don’t.

    simon – i don’t really understand what you are saying when you suggest ‘It’s perfectly possible to be against same-sex marriage and for conventional marriage, without aiming at being discriminatory.’ people don’t AIM to be discriminatory; the evil that is discrimination swims way below the surface and need not be conscious or intentional (as the law recognises). if you consider that opposing gay marriage is not in itself a discriminatory position, i disagree. i disagree with every fibre of my being and as someone who doesn’t wish to marry. i ask simply ‘where’s the harm if gay couples are allowed to marry?’. are the opponents the same people who feel a bit queasy when they see gay people kiss in public.

    lucy, i have to agree with your analysis in every particular. opposition is poorly evidenced, often made on grounds that those making it don’t themselves understand and springs from deeply-held old-fashioned archetypes. knee-jerk in old money. thankfully, we will move on. coleridge and his ilk will fade into history.

  15. Simon, I’d suggest you have a look at the Christian Concern website or the links provided by Anya Palmer. A debate requires opposing arguments. The lineup for this event involved a number of speakers who have publicly opposed same sex marriage (many of whom see same sex relationships as morally wrong) plus Coleridge J. I’m all for debate in the true sense of the word but was appalled by Coleridge’s decision to speak at this event. I often represent gay and lesbian parents in the Family Division. They are often worried about how the judge will perceive them. How could I reassure clients that a judge willing to stand on this platform with these speakers saw same sex relationships as anything other than a poor second as a basis on which to raise children?
    Jim is right. His conduct must be capable of causing even a sensible lay punter to wonder whether he sees cohabiting or same sex parents as inferior. And for that reason the OJC need to look at it.

  16. SW: Do you really think that abusing the proponents of a view that differs to your own based on their adherence to the “Sky Fairy” – itself a deliberately insulting phrase – is argument? Because I don’t. Nor is deciding that there are no statistics because you say so. I don’t mind at all if you want to propound a view. But it’s not debate unless it’s set out sensibly and fairly.

    Equally, disputing a Judge’s views is not censorship. And that is exactly what isn’t being done. Your antipathy to the argument ought not to blind you to the unpleasant means adopted to prevent it being set out. Are you really suggesting that, because he went on Radio 4, the complaint is ok because he wasn’t censored when he was on the radio? I thought we were committed to fairness and the right of everyone to be heard. That’s what lawyers are about – right?

    You are wrong about discrimination. People DO aim to be discriminatory. They blow up pubs with gay people in them. And Catholics. So, let’s have the sense to recognise that some things need tackling as a priority. Then, when we think about people who actually try NOT to discriminate but don’t always get it right, we don’t necessarily need to make ourselves feel good by treating them as evil on the basis of what we are sure they would say, if only we didn’t cancel the events at which they were going to say it.

    If you had followed this debate you would know that I am in favour of all marriage – gay or otherwise. But no one needs to disagree with every fibre of their being – it is sufficient to disagree. And, if you are confident in your position, then it will withstand examination by someone who disagrees and by public debate. The reason for trying to stop debate is normally that you aren’t sure of any such thing. Or, of course, that whilst the enlightened will obviously take the ‘right’ view, the great unwashed may not. Neither is a position which should attract anything but antipathy.

    I am really disappointed by this: the tactics are either acceptable or not. It is not context dependant and saying it’s all ok because I personally like the argument advanced by those who are behaving badly is not what I conceive my job to be about.

  17. Disagreeing with someone’s opinion is entirely acceptable. In fact it’s perfectly normal and a feature of a healthy democratic society. Attacking a person for holding an opinion is extremist, intolerant and fundamentally oppressive. That’s the very reason that we have anti-discrimination legislation.

    It is plainly unjust to say that someone’s life opportunities and career choices are to be limited by their gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. It is just as wrong to seek to place limits on their opportunities and careers by virtue of their religious or philosophical views. By all means debate vigorously whether Sir Paul’s Foundation has any merit but to question his fitness for office is oppressive.

    Judges frequently have to pass judgment in areas in which they hold strong personal views. They do so in accordance with their judicial oath and by application of the law. Only if objectively speaking they can be seen to have breached these can a complaint legitimately be made against them.

  18. I tried to post links to the studies but it takes too much time. However if you go to the Institute of Fiscal Studies website you can read both that report and a couple of updates which confirm the findings. So an advanced search for the two words: Marriage Greaves.

    Greaves is one of the authors

  19. Simon,

    I think you’re wrong to suggest this isn’t context dependant. This is a High Court judge and the Law Society respectively.

    The rules on how senior judges get involved in policy discussions are necessarily stricter than the rules on how the private individual may get involved in policy discussions. The issue is not really one of whether or not Coleridge J is needs to recuse himself, or even might appear as if he needs to recuse himself, but of whether a barely informed member of the public might think that he might be biased.

    To the extent they don’t already, the judiciary must have respect for the vagaries of public perception—be it ill-informed or otherwise. To the extent to which I can offer any useful opinion on the subject (I’m not a judge, oddly…) I don’t imagine the OJC will uphold the complaint. But in my view a dismissal of any complaint is a valuable as declares that there are no concerns regarding potential bias in Coleridge J.

    I’m sure there are many judges who feel that they ought not to have to suffer the indignity of having their affairs examined by the OJC. But I’m afraid I think the public have the right to be assured that their judges—even those who voluntarily decide to spearhead a major media campaign on matters of pure policy—are exercising their discretion impartially and uncoloured by their personal and social opinions.

  20. As I understand the situation, the law society was just hiring out a room. This wasn’t an event with any law society input at all. And by the way, the members of the law society haven’t been consulted on what its the appropriate position, if any, for it to take on gay marriage. Then again, neither has the public by the government!

  21. Alison – I did and I didn’t like or agree with what I saw.

    But your question as to how you reassure clients is one which you surely know how to answer. You say to them that he took an oath to try things fairly and they can have absolute confidence that he will. You say that because it is true.

    Now, if you DON’T think that is true, you should already complained have about him being biased. That is our duty as advocates for our clients.

    Your question sounds to me to be more like what do you do if your clients leap to the easiest conclusion about why they didn’t get what they wanted. But the professional solution to that is not to blame the Judge.

  22. Simon I don’t think it’s so straightforward as you suggest. There are many occasions where a judge may do or say something within the course of a trial that would lead a client to be legitimately anxious or unhappy about the fairness of proceedings but in respect of which they would quite properly be advised that recusal or appeal would be unlikely to succeed. That happens all the time and we all deal with cases that make us uncomfortable (judges are after all both human and imperfect so this is no surprise). I once successfully sought recusal of a sleeping wing member as a baby junior – it was a pretty big deal to pipe up and say “er, your colleague was asleep, can we start again?” I can tell you. (he denied it, quizzed my instructing solicitor on his ethnic origin before recusing himself. Very odd.). That a recusal / appeal / complaint would have poor prospects does not necessarily mean that there is no real and reasonable issue of loss of confidence for an individual or particular group of people, surely?
    And rhetorically one could ask what is the purpose of the judicial code if the oath is all one needs to fall back on to ensure public confidence?

  23. Jonathan: what if those opinions are themselves discriminatory? We are entitled, aren’t we, to criticise those whose beliefs whilst genuine are inherently racist or homophobic? And the law limits the freedom of expression of such views where eg they amount to the incitement of racial hatred.

    I am not suggesting that Coleridge J is homophobic. I have no reason to believe that he is. But his role imposes further limits on his right to express his views, namely that he must not say anything which would lead a reasonable and informed layperson to question whether he was biased. The test is, as you say it should be, an objective one, which focuses on the impact of what he has said rather than what he believes.

    I’m sure that the majority of Fam Div judges see marriage as the best basis for family life. Most of them are married (several are divorced of course). It’s hardly surprising given that most are from well to do and conservative backgrounds.

    . But it is of huge importance that they bring sensitivity and respect to their assessment of the diverse families whose lives they scrutinise. Whatever their own views, it is just not on for any judge to create a perception that he sees one type of family as second best. I think that there is a real question as to whether this judge has done so and it is right and proper that the OJC should investigate.

  24. I think it is straightforward. I think some Judges before whom I have appeared (all now retired obviously – I’m not an idiot ;)) were moronic. I thought some were limited and I thought most were good – excellent. The job is to deal with all those aspects of it. If the Judge decides against you idiotically, you appeal.

    But if a client is anxious about fairness and there would be no recusal or successful appeal, then either the system is corrupt (lots of people who come here believe that: I do not) or the unfairness is not a contributory factor. In which case, no client should be told that it is, however comforting that may be.

    The advocates’ job is to make unpleasant applications. If we only had to do the easy, pleasant things we would be redundant. Our job is to be straight: if the Court behaves badly I tell the client so, tell the court so and seek redress. If I’m wrong in my assessment or my judgement then I’m not as good as I think I am. If the client believes that it’s all a stitch-up and it isn’t then it is equally my job to tell him that he lost because his case was poor, or he came across badly, or that the Judge simply preferred the submissions of the other side. It isn’t our job to take refuge in the client’s discomfort with the Judge’s perceived views to avoid a more difficult discussion.

    I once told a Judge that he ought to reprimand the solicitor for the other side who was, with their trainee, laughing at my client when he gave evidence and clearly putting him off. The Judge told me I was impertinent and he was in charge of his Court, not me. I said that I was sorry I had been impertinent and I had thought he had missed what had happened, rather than actually seen it and approved. The Judge told me to carry on so I asked my client whether he felt he was giving his evidence as well as he could. He said no and the Judge said he wasn’t taking a note and I should move on. I asked my client why he didn’t feel he was doing as well as he could… We lost and we appealed. The other side caved and gave us a deal. The Judge hasn’t spoken to me since, save to say hello when in company. That’s how the cookie crumbles.

    If you haven’t anything to go on save your feeling then I don’t think you should assume you are right. I know that a number of my colleagues shared a view that a Judge didn’t like them because they were Jews. I could see why, but although I had bad results in front of him I could never do more than say I lost and I didn’t think he much liked me. On that basis, when a client asked me directly whether I thought we lost BECAUSE the Judge didn’t like me, I told the truth and said that I couldn’t see that in the Judgment and I wasn’t prepared to guess. In the end, trust ought to be our default position or we can all pack up and leave it to the best fighter or the one who triumphs in a trial by ordeal.

  25. There’s thousands of years of precedent to indicate that marriage can reasonably be viewed as a gold standard. You don’t need to look up academic research on that. You need a knowledge of universal social history and the development of mankind. The academic research points to the benefits to children that arise from being brought up within a family where the parents are married.

    Your blog and the post from Ms Palmer suggests you’ve got a bit of an anti-marriage agenda going on here. As a barrister, one would have thought you might have a bit more to say on where the specifics of the Children Act ought to change but you seem rather moot on that. Perhaps you’re one of the Liz Trinder do-nothing acolytes who promote the notion that the existing law can stay put as it represents an ‘act of kindness’ to children.

    • Paul, Would be grateful if you please don’t revel my anti-marriage outlook on life to my husband, it’s just I want to make it to my silver anniversary and I’ve still got 14 years to go.

      Incidentally, if one modelled society on the basis of universal social history and the development of mankind we wouldn’t get much progress and would be adopting the subjugation of women as public policy (not strictly universal from an anthropological point of view but I’ll hazard a guess the same can be said of marriage).

      P.S. I’ve got plenty to say about the Children Act, just not in this particular post.

  26. simon

    at 22 i’m afraid i’m suggesting you are playing the man not the ball because you didn’t like my use of a certain term (which as it has clearly upset you and i don’t [normally] seek to cause gratuitous offence i shan’t repeat here.).

    i don’t regard using that term as being abusive of people with a religion. and to use a cliched (but imho correct) argument, religion and god/gods/goddesses will survive a pop from me. it will be around long after i am dust and have had to answer to any power there may be for what i believe in. i have no issue with your right to believe in things and express them as you choose and i have the same right. equally, while i don’t necessarily intend to insult, we have no right not to feel insulted even by the extreme views of others (and mine was hardly extreme… was it?).

    since you ask, i do know the difference very well between reasoned argument and what you call ‘abusing’. using that term was not an attempt at the former. (and i think if you are honest you will admit you knew that.)

    i did not attempt to deny the existence of statistics. if you honestly think i did, you need to read what i wrote and perhaps invest in new glasses – it wasn’t that hard to grasp. i made the (again, i admit unoriginal) point that they are used and misused to support a variety of positions often without any recourse to logic and usually by failing to take a clear view on what is cause and what effect.

    for the rest, you’re criticising me for things i didn’t say and for views i don’t hold. bizarre.


    “I write as a seeker after truth and understanding, so please be patient with me, because God has not finished with me yet. And I will try to be patient with the many of you who wrote to me. I am a follower of Jesus Christ, still seeking understanding”.

    Thus saith John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, in his heart-felt and detailed response on the issue of marriage.

    John looks to the questions of justice and equality, examines the legal and social background of marriage; and concludes with valuing the difference of marriage as a unique mystery.

    Whilst I love John for his attempt to lay a bridge between the protagonists, I sense that the bridge is just a pier short for the job. If John were minded to embrace the Quaker experience, he may add that extra pier?

  28. Simplywondered, your comment was offensive and unpleasant to religious people. It was also a legitimate application of your right to freedom of expression which must never be curtailed. People are free to be offended by it and say so of they choose. Bad manners can be deplored but never banned. On this, Peter Tatchell, the Christian Institute and the National Secular Society are unanimous!

  29. Coleridge J’s views and the establishment of this foundation make him unsuitable for judicial office. The fact there are countless others out there espousing similar views is irrelevant. Effective justice demands impartiality and as a lesbian barrister this sort of campaigning would lead me to professional and personal despair if I didn’t have the example of those who came before. This time last century I couldn’t have voted let alone qualified and my husband could have beaten me with impunity as well as we our children. History holds few answers on this score. Marriage may well have evolved within our culture but for women across the globe it is a symbol of their lack of freedom, with the majority taking place by arrangement and before the age of 18. And what of the 2 women a week in the UK killed by an abusive male partner, where is their campaign, their judicial champion? Not to mention we mere homosexuals whose unions may not hold the sacred status of marriage itself but have been created by parliament nonetheless and who might die for our way of life in other continents. His impartiality is inappropriate but equally the focus can be no less applauded.

  30. Sorry Supersis but this isn’t saying anything. You allege impartiality without proving it. You make a series of contentions about marriage which may or may not be accurate but so what? This isn’t a debate about whether marriage is slavery (about which most people across the globe would disagree with you entirely – although perhaps die to being unenlightened).
    There aren’t 2 women a week killed by abusive male partners as far as I know. The law takes murder seriously and I am unaware of any failure to charge people.
    You are right about the position last century. Progress has been made since then via precisely the people you now seem to think are persecuting everyone. At least to some extent, QED surely?

  31. @ Simon Myerson – I believe the basis for supersister’s comment re frequency of death is the 2005 Home Office stats, and yes, they do show on average 2 women per week killed by abusive current or former partners. I am sorry to disillusion you as to the extent of the problem – possibly it’s common enough that it’s not newsworthy and that’s why it doesn’t attract much attention? People are often supposed how many deaths are caused by driving offences – again, the frequency is not publicised.

    I don’t believe supersister’s comment alleged under charging or current failure to take murder seriously – I took it to be suggesting that the level of violence demonstrated by the statistics means that it is inherent to marriage, a suggestion which I’d have to disagree with.

  32. I’m struggling I’m afraid. The statistics say this: In 2006/07, there were 757 homicides in England and Wales. Sixty five per cent of female victims were killed by their partner, ex-partner or lover. 38 women (20% of all female victims) were killed by strangers. That means that 190 women died. 124 were killed by a partner, ex-partner or lover. That much is clear. The jump comes when saying that these are deaths by abusive partners. Unless the term “abusive” refers to the fact that there was a homicide – which deprives it of any contextual meaning – the statistics don’t help.

    The 2 per week figure comes from the home office and it is specifically NOT confined to women. It says “people”. Moreover it does not say that these people are the victim of abusive partners, but of partners.

    It is this sort of careless reading of the evidence which distort debate. Supersister may be right, but the proof of it isn’t in the official statistics you have quoted.

  33. My point being that of all the causes to promote in the sphere of family law I can’t condone a Judge breaching his code to take a stand in defence of an institution which until recently was a vehicle for, if not a label so emotive as slavery, certainly oppression and you may choose to bury your head in the sand Simon but globally it does remain so. I did not intend to link domestic violence with marruage but rather cite what in my experience for the family lawyer is a rather more pressing and prevelant concern in our society than a lack of nuptials.

  34. I don’t bury my head in the sand and I also don’t link the experience of other countries to what a Judge is trying to do here.

    These accusations have now moved from a breach of the judicial code by resisting gay marriage to a breach of the judicial code by promoting marriage of any kind. If you really regard that as a breach then you ought to complain – and in do doing put your name to what you are alleging. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, then can I seriously suggest toning the down the allegations?

  35. I don’t wish to give my name because I am realistic about the times I live in. You may find the fact that I could be put to death in many places irrelevant but I don’t and I am acutely aware that my liberties in this jurisdiction are as fledgling as they are fragile. You may consider it appropriate for a Judge to spearhead a campaign telling people my type of family is ‘not the best’ type of family whilst at the same time adjudicating disputes, most reasonable people after consideration would have to I believe concede it is not.

  36. I think for me it breaks down into two questions:-

    1. Is a Judge who holds a personal belief on the one-man-one-woman-for life views on marriage (and thus doesn’t think that ‘marriage’ should be available for homosexual people) at the same time capable of being a Judge who applies the law as it standards in a fair, impartial and anti-discriminatory way? (I think my answer to that must be yes, because if that were not true, one would have to believe that a Judge who was strongly in favour of marriage being extended to homosexual couples would not be capable of applying the law as it stands, and I don’t think that’s the case). So, even if Justice Coleridge were staunchly opposed in his personal thinking to gay marriage (I don’t think there’s evidence of this, I’m taking the case at its highest), I don’t believe it would adversely affect his judicial decision-making. It would be unwise to speak of his own personal beliefs, but not fatal to his ability to apply the law; this it seems to me is less than speaking of his beliefs and more of people making the leap that in agreeing to speak at an event, his beliefs coincide with those organising the event, which may or may not be true.

    2. Is the aim of making the complaint in order to explore the extent to which the impartiality may have been compromised, or is it intended to stifle debate with which one disagrees (much as certain ‘alternative’ medical treatments have sought to stifle criticial debate with libel claims)

    I have no way of knowing which was in the mind of this complainant. I hope the former.

  37. What is particularly weird about the whole complaint about Sir Paul thing is that same sex marriage is merely about labels. The law concerning civil partnerships gives same sex couples all the legal rights of married people. Sir Paul is not campaigning to remove those rights! So being perceived as being against the changing of labels puts him beyond the pale it would seem. Are there really no more important issues to become heated about?

  38. The foundation does not promote marriage or civil partnerships it clearly promotes marriage only. Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are married, some even unapologetically, but just as many cohabit or are single and I am certain they would be none too thrilled about appearing before this Judge now either.

  39. @Supersister; your liberties are not fragile in this jurisdiction and unless you are not “out” in your general life (I’m not asking) then your point is invalid. If you will tell your family, friends (and gay clients?) then you are either dodging the point or saying that the judiciary is a massive conspiracy.

    Nor do I find your casual connection of personal belief and bias based thereon a remotely true reflection of how the judiciary behaves. And, if you’ve been in practice any length of time, neither do you. Not to mention that it is still difficult to see what type of dispute might be subject to this bias.

    I am exercised about this because the legal profession is casually dismissed by politicians – “only in it for themselves”, and the idiot fringe on any question who believe (or say they do) that “they” ‘automatically hate us because we are right-wing/left-wing/anarchist/fathers/mothers/gay/straight/white/non-white/Christian/Muslim/Jewish/once took a holiday in Skegness.” Lawyers owe it to their clients to be more responsible than that. Our profession has invested at least 1000 years in trying to defend the rights of people who lack power. You have “fledgling” rights, however fragile they might be and running around anonymously saying that Judges don’t really believe in them is wrong.

  40. This is not about me and it is not about personal belief. But as for an example it’s as clear as daylight if asked to choose between a married parent and a single, cohabiting or same sex partnered parent the Judge might choose married because in his opinion this is best. He is apparently biased. It is not a personal belief leaked to the press, he has set up a foundation! It doesn’t help him in the eyes of the likes of me of course that his bias runs against my personal beliefs, naturally, and as with most and their ethical standards I consider mine absolute, but the law against discrimination is now squarely on my side also thankfully, however recently that liberty was won. And thousands of years of history hold few answers for women today as I and others tried to illuminate previously.

    But I’ll bow out now as I’ve said my piece. I hope people understand why it might be easier said without having to reveal one’s identity.

  41. I have to say that for me, Andrew Pack’s post really is conclusive on the question of Sir Paul’s fitness for office. The rationale is incapable of dispute. To argue that he is unfit for office is simply not capable of rationalisation when you examine it closely and dispassionately.

  42. The Judge MIGHT make a discriminatory decision…

  43. […] Groucho’s aphorism seems entirely appropriate to introduce a few posts from the leading family law bloggers I read.  First up is Lucy Reed of Pink Tape.  Two posts caught my eye: Lost in translation where Lucy considers the advantages of interpreters in court and Gold Band : Gold Standard? […]

  44. […] The irritating thing is that Coleridge is right when he says its great that marriage is centre stage, but he doesn’t even see why he’s right. The equal marriage debate has the potential to remind all of us, both gay and straight, of the unique character of marriage, namely the simultaneously public and private, lifelong commitment to a partner. My husband and I may not make it till death us do part (I bloody well intend to but I do read the divorce statistics so I’m not complacent), and I’m no god-botherer* either, but my marriage oaths were and are important to me. They are on the shelf in the dining room and I read them from time to time (and occasionally refer to their terms in the course of marital arguments). If marriage is the key to durable committed relationships, we should encourage couples of all persuasions to make this commitment, to make it after thoughtful consideration, and to do their best to make it work. That’s what the Marriage Foundation says its all about and in that I have no beef with it, although I understand that marriage is not for everyone and there are other valid ways to make a solemn personal commitment apart from marriage (you can read my earlier blog about the MF here). […]

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