New Channel 4 show blasted for 'denigrating' marriage

(Photo: Roger Kirby)

Channel 4 is to air a "social experiment" during which strangers will marry, and then spend six weeks co-habiting before deciding whether to "opt-out" of the commitment.

Described by the channel's chief executive, Jay Hunt, as a "celebration of marriage", 'Marriage at First Sight' will see six singletons meet for the first time at the altar where they will say "I do".

The programme will then follow the three couples, matched by a panel of psychology, social anthropology and theology experts, as they adjust to life alongside a complete stranger. Just a month and a half after they say their vows, they will be given the option to divorce, or to abide by their commitment.

Hunt says the show will underline the importance of marriage "because of social cohesion".

"We don't have a great track record in that area," she adds; almost 120,000 British couples divorced in 2012.

"At its heart is the idea that we make the biggest decision of our life based on gut instinct, and what if you got an array of experts to help inform that decision and you would be more likely to make the right choice?" she finishes. "We're taking on Britain's reputation as the divorce capital of Europe."

Despite the format of the show – which originally aired in Denmark – receiving international acclaim, so far Channel 4 has been widely criticised for what many see as an attempt to undermine and make a mockery of wedlock.

Simon Calvert of The Christian Institute argues that the premise of the show in itself "denigrates marriage".

"It's horrible for broadcasters to be experimenting with people's lives in this way. Clearly a marriage contracted between two people who barely know each other, who are doing it solely for the sake of a TV programme, is not showing proper respect for the institution," he says.

Katharine Hill, director of Care for the Family, agrees. "Healthy marriages that last a life time are built on friendship, good communication, the ability to resolve conflict and most of all commitment," she says.

"If these couples work at putting these ingredients in place these marriages may last - but much better to prepare for marriage by building a friendship and learning the skills and understanding the choices they are making before tying the knot."

"The decision to marry is the culmination of a process which begins with mutual attraction and goes through several stages until you are at a place where you respect and trust the other enough you decide to commit to spending the rest of your life with them," adds Bridie Collins, Director of Relationship Education and Support at Marriage Care.

"Marriage cannot be the starting point for such a decision."

'Marriage at First Sight' will air this year on Channel 4; a statement released by the station promises it will be part of a range of "provocative new shows tackling big social issues".

More News in Society