Marital Mess and Messages
The Tories want to pay married couples a tax bonus “for being married” but are delaying introducing the measure, yet they can find time to legislate for “gay marriage”. This has got some conservatives up in arms (BBC News Website 3 Feb 2013 Tory chairs urge gay marriage delay – presumably the BBC Sub-editor who writes the “Top stories” links really thinks these backwoodsmen think of themselves as “chairs”).
I think there is an obvious answer that retains the idea of “marrying for love” (and not a tax break) and maintaining some form of control over this potential tax loophole as well as addressing injustices.
So what are the injustices?
- Homosexual couples can only be civilly partnered
- Heterosexual couples can only be married (or uncivilly partnered?)
- Married or civilly partnered couples get tax breaks when one dies, yet (for instance) two sisters living together may have to sell their home when one of them dies (in order to pay Inheritance Tax – which is not payable on transfers to spouses/ civil partners)
- There are currently no financial incentives for couples to stay together
- The Churches feel they are being pushed around by the Government.
So how do we sort out this unholy mess? We recognise that there are two mixed concepts:
- Tax breaks given by the state
- Church blessed relationships
We separate them. The state should get out of the marriage business completely and the churches should be free to join whoever they want in marriage.
The state offers “Civil Unions” open to any two people:
- A man and a women planning on bring up children and wanting state recognition of the family unit – and the encouragement of a tax break of a few quid per week to stay together.
- Two people of either sex wanting their relationship to be recognised by the state (for instance in life threatening situations where hospitals, police etc. need to be sure that they are contacting the most appropriate person) – these relationships would also qualify for the current “spouse exemption” from inheritance tax (thereby addressing the issue of two spinster sisters sharing a home).
Churches offer “marriages” to whoever they like:
- Conventional Heterosexual Marriages – Couples may decide to have one to match their Civil Union – a situation not that different to that of non Anglicans who marry in a register office and then have a separate church wedding.
- “Gay marriages” if their religion allows – again matched to a Civil Union if they wish
- “Polygamous marriages” if their religion allows – although each partner may only have a single civil union (civil unions qualify for tax breaks so you can only have one).
People wanting to be married thus have to find a church willing to recognise their relationship and who feel the people involved meet the requirements of the particular church.
Tories may see this as allowing a free market in marriage; there is choice, there is free information and the transaction costs are low and the market is not distorted by state incentives. By removing all the “fluffy fancy stuff” from the civil unions they are also reducing the size and role of the state.