Hot air

Parliament today has held a long debate on legalising “gay marriage”.  Strong opinions on both sides, commonsense on neither – at least so far as I’ve heard reported.

What an utterly bizarre waste of time.  How the **** is marriage any of the government’s business?  It should be neither legal nor illegal: it should just be there for people who want it and churches/etc who are happy to marry them.

Marriage is a historical and religious tradition.  For participants it’s a personal and/or religious statement.   For the law to poke its nose into that and confuse it with legal rights and obligations is Big Government gone mad – the kind of thing this government is supposed to be against.

Where the law might legitimately have business with peoples relationships is where there are joint commitments and obligations.  Children, obviously, but as soon as you widen the relationship net you could be looking at business partners, or people sharing a house and mortgage.  And that begs the question: why does the law discriminate against units of more than two people, or against close relatives who can’t marry but might very well lead interdependent lives?  The victims of serious discrimination are these ladies, whose rights got lost in the stupid confusion of law and marriage[1].

Exercises in futility seems to be a bit of a theme of the current government.  They’re also (less controversially) changing the rules of succession for the monarchy in the name of equality.  I find it hard to imagine a more glaring oxymoron than “equality” in that of all contexts!

[1] If you accept, as I don’t, that the act of marrying should confer the kind of special privilege they wanted to share.

Posted on February 6, 2013, in politics, rants, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. We are where we are, we don’t get to rewrite society from scratch. On the whole, I think that’s a good thing.

    I’ve been making a similar point on a regular basis for the past ten years or so. However, there is a valid counterpoint: that “marriage” is an internationally recognised institution (if you’re married in the UK and you move to, say, Germany, then German law confers certain additional rights upon you. All this stuff was supposed to be codified by the Hague Convention on Marriage, but in practice almost no-one has actually signed up to that, so it really boils down to (very) longstanding convention.) Therefore, there is still a valid reason why it needs to be the government’s business.

    ‘Joint commitments and obligations’ do arise in all sorts of contexts, but there is a strong argument for two adults to be able to form a legally-meaningful, long-term relationship. It has implications for, e.g., inheritance, next-of-kin status (who gets to say you can turn off the life support, who has the right to visit in hospital or who should be first to be told about the fatal accident…), sharing of debt and similar obligations. “Marriage” is the conventional shorthand for establishing that kind of relationship. And if you think about it, you can see reasons (though you can argue about how strong they are, of course) why it should be a one-to-one relationship – at least in a society where both partners are legally equal.

    My preferred solution is to reclassify all existing marriages as “civil partnerships”, then make that the only legally meaningful form of relationship in future. Then every church, mosque, synagogue, temple (or bowling alley, for that matter) in the country could “marry” whoever it liked, entirely at their discretion. But even that doesn’t entirely answer the point about international status.

  2. Did you have to link to such a blatantly homophobic article?

    If their property was a beneficial joint tenancy, which can exist between friends or siblings, then the property would pass to sole ownership of the other on the death of either with no inheritance tax.

    Presumably either they chose not to own it that way, e.g. they didn’t actually want the same kind of arrangement for their property that marriage or civil partnership would convey despite the press coverage. Or they were concerned at the inheritance tax due when they were both dead, which I think would be affected, but if one of those things that is hard to get angry over.

    Either way the rules on joint ownership of property are complex, and only tangentially related to the issue of marriage.

    I can’t find much informed comment on the Burden case, but it is fairly clear they could use one of a selection of existing legal procedures to avoid inheritance tax if they chose to. They wanted to change the law for co-tenants with no legal agreement, something the government would oppose as it would greatly complicate the collection of inheritance tax if anyone who happened to live in the property when the owner died could suddenly inherited it free of tax sans paperwork.

  3. Hello Gnufan. I’m not sure that your comment on the inheritance tax status of beneficial joint tenancies is correct.The following link refers: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/inheritancetax/paying-iht/who-pays.htm

    It is true that the surviving party assumes ownership of the whole by default, but my understanding is that if they are not married or in a civil partnership then normal IHT rules apply. I would love to be proved wrong: I own my home in a joint tenancy with my partner (we are not married) and my understanding is that if I were to predecease her, she would be liable to full IHT on my interest in the property (assumed to be 50% for tax purposes as there are two joint tenants) as my total estate including this interest would exceed the IHT threshold.

    From a personal perspective conclusive evidence to the contrary would be welcomed.

  4. Whoops, is that article homophobic? I didn’t read it: remembering the story, I just googled and linked to the only article that came up in the first page of results.

    And no, I can’t get too upset about two overprivileged and ultra-rich (as evidenced by their living just the two of them in that house) women losing out. But the fact remains, they’re still victims of discrimination, in that they were denied privileges they could’ve had if they weren’t related.

    To point out they could make alternative arrangements is the same argument as to say homosexuals don’t need marriage *because they have civil partnership*. Except, your argument is the weaker of the two, because there’s no such exact legal equivalence available to them.

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