Jeff Corbett on why Barnaby Joyce's marriage ending is neither shocking or a known betrayal

YES, the end of Barnaby Joyce's long marriage is sad, and it is always particularly sad when the spouse left behind is the homemaker who finds that home diminished. The homemaker is almost always the wife, and it seems to me that the years after the children have grown is her time to reap the rewards of two or three exhausting decades.

The frenzied pursuit and condemnation of Barnaby Joyce, however, had nothing to do with the sadness of a long marriage ending. It is about politics, the scandal of his impregnating a younger woman, a baying media and revenge for his daring to stand against gay marriage.

There is nothing new in a marriage ending, as about a third do, or in a spouse having an affair, or in a decade or two difference in the ages of lovers. Those who are keen to condemn Mr Joyce cannot know the state of his marriage at the time of his affair, and why should their set of morals take precedence over those of someone else?

The relatively new diversity of people in Australia, the widening gulf in generations' attitudes, and a new liberalism and an acceptance of difference have seen off the notion of a national morality.

I'm not sure that public morality has been even a bit player in marriage breakdowns since no-fault divorces were introduced in 1976, and the dramatic spike in divorces after that change in law reduced Australia's national misery load considerably.

The end of a marriage must be a good thing, given that at least one of the two people wants out. A marriage that one partner no longer wants must be unfortunate in so many ways, among them a lost opportunity for a happier life for both.

While that applies to de facto relationships, which have the civil status of marriage, the difference is that de facto couples have probably not vowed to love, honour and cherish until death do us part. For them, the ending of a de facto relationship is simply that, whereas the ending of a marriage is seen as a breach of commitment, a breaking of vows, a failure.

The marriage vow is a nonsense, and just because you are still married doesn't mean it is not. How can anyone in their right mind vow to love someone forever when they cannot know that they will? In terms of contracts it must be unconscionable because no rational person would enter into it.

The end of a marriage must be a good thing, given that at least one of the two people wants out. A marriage that one partner no longer wants must be unfortunate in so many ways, among them a lost opportunity for a happier life for both.

This vow of commitment until death do you part is probably the last surviving decree of the Christian church, as meaningless now as those other church decrees that have been ejected from our national consciousness. In earlier less affluent times it may have been a useful vow, given that women may not have had property rights and that children would very likely be in extreme poverty without the male breadwinner, but those times have passed.

Still, though, a marriage is seen as a failure if it ends before death, when the fact is that it is simply a marriage that has ended. The ending is seen as defining the marriage as a failure, when it may have been a happy and productive union that was therefore a success. That it ends when one or both recognise that the relationship no longer has value must surely enhance that success, given that the marriage won't be descending into misery.

If you see marriage as more about the protection of children, you will have seen over the past few decades of easy divorce that children are much better off shared between two happy homes than confined to one unhappy home.

It is interesting that long marriages that come to an end with the death of a spouse are applauded as having been wonderful, when the fact is that they may have fallen well short of happy.

The old notion of adultery, too, is much reduced these days. No one worth listening to holds now that extra-marital sex between separation and divorce is adultery, and as evidenced by the growing list of wives publicly supporting their prominent and philandering husbands, adultery is no longer necessarily a deal breaker.

At its worst it is a personal betrayal, the personal being the salient point, no business of courts, churches, media, the community. And you cannot fairly describe Mr Joyce's affair as a personal betrayal, because, remember, you don't know the state of his marriage at that time.

Some will say that Barnaby Joyce and other political leaders should be held to a higher personal standard.

Whose higher standard? Yours? Mine?


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