This chapter, What is the point of the marriage institution? is the longest chapter in the book. Ash covers a lot of material, all aimed at helping his readers appreciate God's good gift of marriage for the benefit of society as a whole.
As a parent and teacher I am very aware of the importance of setting boundaries for children: far from being harmful, they actually give a sense of security and freedom to act within the boundaries. Ash claims the same for marriage: secularists think that God's boundaries are restrictive, but in fact the loosening of them is a move towards slavery and away from freedom, towards law and away from grace. He illustrates this with reference to sex before marriage (casual sex and co-habiting) and sex after marriage with someone other than the marriage partner (adultery).
I was reminded of the Federal Parliamentary report, To have and to hold: Strategies to strengthen marriage and relationships, published in 1998. It reluctantly had to agree that co-habitation before marriage was no pointer to a successful marriage:
The Australian Family Formation Project found that after five years of marriage, 13 per cent of those who had cohabited would divorce, compared to 6 per cent of those who had not cohabited. Ten years later the proportions were 26 per cent for those who had cohabited and 14 per cent for those who had not. These findings have been supported by research in Britain, Canada, the United States and Sweden.Adultery, marriage breakdown and divorce are just as destructive. When Kurt Cobain, the grunge rock star committed suicide in the 1990’s, reporters digging into his background discovered that his parents had divorced when he was eight. His mother said that he had been profoundly affected by the experience – so much so that at an earlier suicide attempt, he had a note in his pocket that said, “I’d rather die than go through a divorce". Why? Because marriages were not intended to break up. God knew that the best environment for a 'one flesh' relationship was a faithful, lifelong commitment between a husband and wife.
Kerry James, a Sydney marriage counsellor, has noted that ‘people who do decide not to get married and to live together may be unsure of their commitment in the first place, and then they may decide to get married. The lack of certainty about the commitment continues and that’s when the marriage can break down.’ (K James, The Midday Show Channel 9: Sydney 14 June 1994.)
Ash's analyses of the unravelling of the institution of marriage are very insightful. They will bear close scrutiny in this age when the definition of marriage is up for grabs.