Marriage was one of the greatest social evils it was fashionable to denounce when, briefly, I was an idealistic left-wing student. There was little worse for society, according to radical 1968 convention, than the repressive, bourgeois, nuclear family. Marriage, like the social structures it supported, was the enemy of freedom, equality, authenticity and self-expression. It gave rise to some of the most painful of civilisation’s discontents. It was a tool of hierarchical capitalist oppression.
“Damn braces, bless relaxes,” students used to say, quoting Blake without the least idea of what he meant. It is true, however, that marriage is not always relaxing, and often all too bracing, and in that half-educated muddle there was some uncomfortable truth.
Whether anyone still thinks like that I have no idea. But marriage has never been more unpopular. Last week the Office for National Statistics announced that the proportion of adults in England and Wales who choose to marry has fallen to the lowest rate since figures were first recorded in 1862.
Just under 23 in every 1,000 unmarried men got married last year; the figure for women is fewer than 21…