Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 election

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:

  1. Tax breaks given by the state
  2. 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.

Thus:

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.

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5 thoughts on “Marital Mess and Messages

  1. Hansard reports:

    5 Feb 2013 : Column 152
    Sir Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con):

    I understand—I will give way to my right hon. Friend if she wishes to correct me—that the Cabinet paper on this matter was entitled “Redefining Marriage”. It is not possible to redefine marriage. Marriage is the union between a man and a woman. It has been that historically and it remains so. It is Alice in Wonderland territory—Orwellian almost—for any Government of any political persuasion to try to rewrite the lexicon. It will not do.

    A way forward has been suggested, but it has been ignored. I do not subscribe to it myself, but I recognise the merit in the argument. The argument is that if the Government are serious about this measure, they should withdraw the Bill, abolish the Civil Partnership Act 2004, abolish civil marriage and create a civil union Bill that applies to all people, irrespective of their sexuality or relationship. That means that brothers and brothers, sisters and sisters and brothers and sisters would be included as well. That would be a way forward. This is not.

    Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): May I suggest very gently to the hon. Gentleman that what he has just suggested is profoundly offensive not only to a great many people in this country who are in civil partnerships, but to quite a few people on both sides of the House?

    Sir Roger Gale: The argument is not mine, but that of an eminent lawyer in this House. Its merit is that it would create what I think the hon. Gentleman wants, which is equality. It would create a level playing field and it would leave marriage and faith to those who understand that marriage means faith and that marriage means the union between a man and a woman and nothing else.

    Chris Bryant indicated dissent.

    5 Feb 2013 : Column 153

    Sir Roger Gale: The hon. Gentleman may seek to bat my argument away, but I promise him that in this House and outside it, there are very many people who share this view.

  2. In today’s PMQ’s (6 February 2013):

    Question 1 from Christopher Chope: In response to the many concerns expressed in yesterday’s debate, will he ensure that civil partnerships are open to heterosexual couples on an equal basis with homosexual couples?1

    The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me notice of his question. I will obviously listen carefully to what he says, but frankly I am a marriage man. I am a great supporter of marriage. I want to promote marriage, defend marriage, encourage marriage, and the great thing about last night’s vote is that two gay people who love each other will now be able to get married. That is an important advance. We should be promoting marriage, rather than looking at any other way of weakening it.

    1Christopher Chope also raised this point in the previous day’s debate.

  3. I find it slightly uncomfortable that my original post seems to be aligned with two of the more dark blue Conservatives.

    However I do find that their points have value:

    Roger Gale: Is worried about the “redefinition of Marriage” and suggests that the House of Commons cannot rewrite the lexicon. I think here he misses the point – legislation can do just that. I would hope that any redefinition was clear and unambiguous (and equal). The current proposals do not do that for reasons detailed in my original post. His relaying of suggestions for abolishing civil partnerships (in favour of civil unions open to all) echo my thoughts – even if he points out that I may be unwittingly echoing the thoughts of one of his colleagues.

    Christopher Chope: The Prime Minister’s reply does rather provoke the question whether Civil Partnerships as a whole should be withdrawn now that homosexual couples can be married (as soon as this legislation is fully enacted).

  4. Reports of the debate highlight many contradictions in this legislation. The antis made much of the impossibility of same sex marriages being annulled due to non-consumation or disolved due to adultery. But there are a number of other contradictions as the legislation twists itself around the need to be “equal” towards individuals but to allow churches to be different. These can be seen in Liberty’s briefing document1.

    • Church of England Canon Law (Canon B30), describes Holy Matrimony as “a union between one man and one women”, but the Canon Law of the Established Church has to be compatible with the general law of the land – so a clause is added to make the Church of England exempt. Not all Churches are equal, and you can be equal in the eyes of the law but not in the eyes of the church of England
    • The Church of England and the Church in Wales have a duty at common law to marry their parishioners – so another exemption.
    • Liberty’s document refers to protection for ” individual members of the clergy, that do not wish to perform functions in connection with same-sex marriages” – meaning officiating at same-sex marriages or registering premises for that purpose. So their position is protected. But we have recently had court rulings that officials in register offices do not have a similar protection and cannot refuse to carry out civil partnerships. You can have religious objections, but they are only tolerated in Churches.
    • Outside the Church of England and the Church in Wales, the “only marriages which can be solemized on religious premises without an effective opt-in are marriages between a man and a woman.”
    • Same-sex ceremonies in military chapels require a special clause, save for those done under the rites of the Church of England or the Church in Wales which have to be specially exempted.
    • The introduction of same-sex marriages has not been carried through into pensions legislation in that widows and widowers in heterosexual couples can receive widows/widowers pension, but widows of same-sex marriages can’t.

    It seems to be a real mess only resolvable by spliting the state’s involvement away from that of the churches. The state can register Civil Unions (with their legal and taxation rights and privileges) whilst churches should be able to do whatever they like (and by implication the Church of England’s role in the state registration of marriages is removed). This seems to optimise the balance of equality of individuals and tolerance towards religions.

    1I should add that the purpose of Liberty’s document was not to highlight the contradictions (except for the one relating to pensions) but to provide a supportive briefing to the bill.

  5. Pingback: Swivel-Eyed Loons | Outside the marginals

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