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What has this to do with the the state (or me?)

Link: Tory MP Alan Duncan to enter civil partnership - Telegraph.

AlanandjamesI wish Alan Duncan and his partner every happiness today. I don't know anything about Mr. Dunseath, but Mr Duncan seems a nice, amusing chap and I am happy for him that he has a relationship he wants to celebrate. I hope they have a damn good party and that both families have a great time.

However, I don't see what it's got to do with me or why he needs the state's approval of his private choices.

Many years ago next month, my wife and I exchanged our wedding vows. We did so in her family's church, which was so nonconformist that it was in a communion of its own. There were no other branches. The pastor officiating had a day job as an official of the local Water Board. Neither of us cared. We were not religious. The ceremony was for the families.

As we were not in the established church, the marriage took legal effect when a nice lady Registrar, a state employee, signed the book she brought along for the purpose. I was too conventional then to do more than say "thank you" and pay her, but looking back it all seems very strange. For Mrs Paine and myself, we were married of and by our own volition. For the obscure Church where our families enjoyed the charming ceremony, we were now licensed to do what had previously been sin. We had chosen to involve the church, but what legitimate interest had the state in the matter? Why were we only married when this obscure official said so?

Religion was the way in which societies were ordered before an effective state was established. It worked pretty well. God is an ideal policeman, permanently on the beat. Omniscient and omnipresent, no crime sin escapes his notice and - while sinners may everywhere be seen at their work - the good need neither despair nor lobby the Home Secretary. Unerring justice will eventually be done - and with a severity to satisfy the most bloodthirsty reader of the Daily Mail. It is hard for the state to compete with that.

In primitive societies where a girl who was "ruined" would find herself without support when her father died, the institution of marriage - essentially the licensing of sexual relations on certain moral conditions - was crucial. A man who made such a commitment to God was under strong obligation to support his woman and their children. A man who abdicated that responsibility would face first the scorn of Man and then the wrath of God. For societies to grow and prosper and for children to be safe, this was important. It worked. The state probably only ever got involved because otherwise marriages made under minority religions would not have been respected.

Now that woman are able to support themselves (and goodness, how we parents of girls now encourage them to be independent so no rascal may ruin their lives) what is the point anymore? Women are not uniquely vulnerable. Indeed the common experience of married men is quite the contrary. Today, if your particular church regards fornication as a sin, let it license it for you. That other churches may still regard you as fornicators is surely now of little concern? It seems almost a comical question. If there is to be marriage (and why not if people want it?) what on Earth has the state to do with it? The law could easily be adjusted to eliminate what small difference remains between the rights of a live-in partner and those of a spouse. For that matter, why not leave the matter entirely to private negotiation? After all, the average person is now likely to have a longer-term contract with his or her bank, than his or her spouse. Yet we don't need the state to bless our account agreements.

All civilised men and women in the anglo-saxon world now recognise how ludicrous it was for homosexuality to be a crime. The "victims" were volunteers, no-one was hurt and the whole thing exposed hapless individuals (with no more choice in the matter than those of any other sexual orientation) to blackmail at worst and social exclusion at best. It drove a minority which existed at a pretty consistent level throughout human history into a sub-culture, when its members could otherwise perfectly well  function in the mainstream.

I am sure we all accept it should be lawful. But we must not make the common modern error of confusing lack of prohibition with approval. That is the mistake which drives so much of the modern Nanny state. Personally, I don't give a damn what people do in bed as long as they don't hurt anyone without their consent. I am inclined to think that homosexuality, far from being unnatural, may even be one of Nature's gentler devices for taking certain genes out of the pool. As such, it is rather to be approved and left alone just as we should (in my opinion) cheerfully accept infertility. Nature knows what she is about and should be left to get on with it. Others, however, have strong religious, moral or other objections. Pace Mr Dale who recently threw an almighty wobbler on the subject, so what if they do?

Civil partnerships can fulfil no religious function. For those religions for which homosexuality is a sin, no amount of secular mumbo-jumbo can legitimise it. In demanding parity (probably just out of the habit of recent decades) it seems to me that homosexuals have taken a wrong turn. They should have asked the state to get out of these private matters entirely; leaving marriage for the religious and private contracts for the rest. Let's face it. The Registrar at my wedding fulfilled no useful purpose. The money spent on her was a waste. Her job should long since have been scrapped. If it had been, then none of us - disapproving, tolerant or gay - need ask ourselves today why the shadow business secretary's private contractual arrangements are anyone's business but his own.


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Even the Tories don't care about this sort of thing any. Welcome to the 20th century ;)

Tom Paine

Not falling for that one, James! Logically either civil partnerships or marriages BOTH need state blessing or NEITHER do. What the churches do is entirely a matter for them. As an atheist it's not for me to tell you religious types what to think. I am writing here only of the state's role in these matters. I would rather kick it out of everyone's private arrangements than follow the logic of civil partnerships to its ultimate conclusion (i.e. that NO legal relationship is valid until legalised by Mother Government). You will have noticed that logic already emerging in the comments here - even though my commenters are a self-selected company of the awkward squad (bless them) and therefore unusually sound in their thinking. That's how dangerous this kind of stuff is....


You're really throwing curved balls lately, Tom.

"Women are not uniquely vulnerable. Indeed the common experience of married men is quite the contrary."

Are but women are vulnerable but they give all the appearance of not being. The issue is not really whether they are or are not but that marriage is the best institution to keep people to their vows. Not perfect but the best available.

You're right that civil partnerships are a waste of resources.

Tom Paine

Trooper T., I am inclined to agree. Anyone should be free to contract any obligations which do no positive harm to others. But why involve the government? Millions of "legally-binding contracts" a day are entered into without state assistance. My question (which no commenter has yet answered) is why this particular form of contract needs special legitimisation by a state official. "To avoid inheritance tax" is a good tongue-in-cheek answer, but then that tax on taxed savings from taxed income is a moral outrage in its own right. What good reason is there, on general principles (ignoring current tax laws and traditional practices) for the state to have anything at all to do with the formation of private sexual, social and family arrangements?

If we start to ask ourselves such radical questions, it will soon become apparent how many such functions are mere barnacles on the hull of the ship of state. "First, let's sack all the registrars" may not sound like the most revolutionary slogan, but it would be a beginning.

Trooper Thompson

The above comment was from me

I don't see the objection to the registrar's function, although there may be better ways of doing it. Seeing that marriage is, amongst other things, a legally-binding contract, it is necessary that such a contract is signed and stamped in the presence of witnesses. As it bestowes exclusive rights (or at least the laws against bigamy make this so) it cannot be a purely personal matter, or else one would be free to marry as many partners as one chose.

As for civil partnerships, it seems ridiculous to enable two homosexual men or women to enter into such a contract, but deny the same contracting rights to two people who profess no sexual love for each other. When you consider that the marriage contract is traditionally sealed by the sexual act (the marriage is consumated thus), what are the specified acts of consumation for gay men or women? Of course, there are none. The point I want to make is that civil partnerships should be open to any two people who wish to enter into a legal contract of this sort.


Tend to agree. I'm not sure why homosexuals really need parity.

At the end of the day if Gay people want to get married in a Christian setting why don't they just set up their own church. And ask the state to kindly take a hike.


There is also, I seem to recall, issues like Next of Kin status, and that sort of thing. But I suppose a sort of power of attorney could cover that, perhaps?


Gallimaufry got it in one, it is about Tax status at the end of your life,and the Law also has much to say on the property division on Divorce.

A lot of people simply get married for the dress, sad but true, the easy divorce laws and penalties imposed by the state especially on men after divorce by the State are extraordinary and make marriage something people ought to take a little more care over.

Hope that does not sound to cynical !


You have omitted those three little words "avoiding inheritance tax" which are the main reason for civil partnerships. Why not scrap death duties instead so that old sisters living together wouldn't be forced to sell the family home when one dies?

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