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So-called “family values” have come to be the byword of social conservatives concerned with pulling back free-ranging social change and returning us to a time when women were women and men were men. And they were married to each other.

In fact, this philosophy seems to be receeding in this country, with even the Conservative party stepping back somewhat from its disasterous ‘back to basics’ campaigns of the past. Instead, this Christmas will see the first civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Yesterday, Canada became the latest country to legalise gay marriage.

But in many ways this is still a European phenomenon . In the States, (from this side of the Atlantic) there appears to be a cultural war raging, which the right wing crowd may well be winning. Meanwhile, much of the developing world is struggling to combat poverty and disease in a climate of social conservatism that threatens to restrict access to crucial tools – such as a condoms.

So a book which reveals that the ‘traditional’ nuclear family is a relatively recent development in the history of marriage is still potentially powerful. Alternet has interviewed Stephanie Coontz about her contribution to the debate, Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage.

She argues that marriage is undergoing, has undergone, a step-change of the magnitude of the industrial revolution, as women and men come to expect more from of their relationships.

The interview ranges from the short history of the love-marriage and how those with strong “family values” are more likely to divorce to how an increasingly egalitarian culture is making marriages that work, work better.