Celebrating fifty years of freedom in relationships
By:18 commentsApril 6, 2017
I’ve not really been following it, but this week the BBC Breakfast programme has been running a series of pieces celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album (for myself I can still remember when my older sister brought the album home, how different it was from what had gone before, and how we quickly grew to love it). On Tuesday I caught part of a video in which Breakfast was considering the track When I’m Sixty-Four, interviewing people of that age and discussing how life had changed over that half-century.
One particular section of that video grabbed my attention. They were talking to an older couple, who had recently married, both having been married previously. They spoke about how this had resulted in the couple having a ‘blended’ family, rather than the ‘traditional’ family that had been predominant in 1967, whereby every generation was descended from both parents, i.e. whole-blood, rather than half-blood. It was explained that this was of course the result of it now being far easier to divorce, and the couple themselves lamented that back in 1967 many couples were forced to endure unhappy relationships.
It is hardly a profound point, but it struck me then that it is all about freedom. The law shouldn’t be used to control the way people lead their lives, save in the most basic sense of not adversely affecting anyone else. In particular, what relationships people choose to enter into or leave should be a matter for them to decide, not the state. Just because a certain relationship type is favoured by those in power should not entitle them to impose their views upon the rest of the population, even if that relationship type is proven to have benefits for society.
But what about the children? The proponents of marriage point out that children fare better if their parents stay together, and parents who are married are more likely to stay together. Doesn’t that make a good argument for the state encouraging marriage? Well, no. Even if those things are true, if a relationship has broken down then the welfare of the children is going to be best served by the parents separating, preferably amicably, irrespective of whether or not they were married. The existence of a marriage certificate changes nothing: if a relationship is going to last, it’s going to last; if a relationship is going to break down, it’s going to break down. The important point is that the parents put the children first, whether they are married or not, and whether their relationship has broken down or not.
We like to think that in this country we live in a free society, but fifty years ago that certainly was not the case. And it remains not the case to a degree while we still have a divorce law that can force couples to remain tied to one another despite the fact that their marriage has clearly irretrievably broken down. Great strides were made by the reformers of the 1960s, but their work has not yet been completed.
Even if the proponents for marriage were right (and they still persist with their arguments), the price of their pro-marriage policies would be far too high. Any sort of return to the bad old days of the 1960s and before would involve the curtailing of basic freedoms in the way people choose to live their lives: to marry, or not to marry, to divorce, or not to divorce. I doubt that society generally would be prepared to give up those freedoms.
Yes, freedom has brought about changes, but we must move on from the idea that all those changes are bad. Yes, there may be far more people who have divorced, but for most of them that has made them more happy, not less. Yes, the blended family may appear strange if looked at from the eyes of someone living in 1967, but it is absurd to say that it is bad. It is just different, that is all.
And even where the changes are bad, we must come up with ways to deal with them, rather than just cry out for the past. Yes, there are now more children from ‘broken homes’ than there were, but that does not have to mean that they are disadvantaged, and to suggest that it does is to perpetuate the disadvantage.
When Paul McCartney sang in 1967 that it’s Getting Better he was quite right. Things did get better for everyone, and I for one celebrate the fact that we all enjoy greater freedom than we did back then.
Image by Richardjo53 via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence
April 6, 2017