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Speeches

N. Gulliford: Ways Municipal Councils Can Promote Marriage

Address at the Focus Session on Marriage and Family
Global Peace Festival-UK, November 22, 2008

Municipal Councils run marriage registry offices but don't make the best use of this responsibility. Those interested in this subject may like to see what I wrote at Conservative Home Platform under the theme, "The Government could be doing much more to encourage strong relationships." The excellent news since then has been the announcement during her speech to the Conservative Party Conference on 30th September by Maria Miller MP, Shadow Minister for the Family:

"Most young couples now get married in a civil ceremony. Unlike a church wedding, there is no tradition of pre-marriage preparation for couples marrying at a registry office. We want that to change. We want local registrars to start signposting couples to pre-marital education as a matter of routine. The Local Government Association who co-ordinate the role of wedding registrars, agree and I am pleased to say that they [are] putting forward this policy so that every young couple getting married will be made aware of the benefits they would get from relationship support at this critical point in their life. In the US, couples who have this type of pre-marriage education are a third less likely to divorce. We want this type of support for couples to be routine in Britain too."

For several years the government has ostensibly supported this stance too; the last record that I have is from the Children's Services Branch, Education, Training & Culture Team, HM Treasury, 24 June 2004:

“The Government continues to be committed to providing support and guidance to couples entering marriages, including secular ceremonies, as well as those who are already married. Indeed, some local authorities are already delivering some services, participating voluntarily in marriage preparation work with the co-operation of local registration practitioners. This was acknowledged in 'Civil Registration: Delivering Vital Change'."

However, no attempt has been made by the government to encourage local councils to engage with or develop this service. Harry Phibbs compiled a list of 100 questions councillors should ask council officers to which I have added five more:

1. Does the council have a policy for domestic and social cohesion?
2. What steps has the council taken to monitor changes by neighbourhood in the married/divorced ratio, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, abortion, single parents, children in care, truancy etc.
3. Do registrars signpost couples to research-based relationship education courses and pre-marital inventories.
4. Are the register offices equipped with Internet terminals to facilitate connections with voluntary groups and Internet based services.
5. To what extent does the council promote its policy for domestic and social cohesion through libraries and local advertising

I hope very much this will become a move towards publishing a 'Social Capital Index' by neighbourhood as a monitoring device [which will be at least as significant as GDP and RPI], and that signposting by registrars to relationship education - along the lines outlined by Maria Miller MP - will be implemented now by local authorities in conjunction with voluntary groups.

The FOCCUS Scoring Centre UK is one of the main psychometric inventory programmes used in the UK. It helps couples preparing for marriage to understand the potential dynamics of their future marriage. This helps them to get off to the best start. It is also used to take a snap-shot of a couple’s situation after marriage to see where it could be strengthened and enriched and ties in well with other programmes available in the UK.