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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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