In which I agree with Julie Bindel

Makes me feel very odd indeed but I do agree:

I would outlaw marriage for everyone, including heterosexuals, and grant access to a civil partnership union across the board.

This is the situation in, just as an example, Portugal. In a legal sense there is no such thing as marriage. There is just the single civil partnership thing for all potential mixtures of two people (they are traditionalist enough still to insist upon that) who wish to sign up to the contract.

Of course, it\’s possible to refer to this as marriage if you wish to. But what, in the terms Bindel is using at least, we normally describe as marriage has no legal weight here. You want to go to church, synagogue, mosque, the local gun club or get the publican in to run a ceremony for you? Sure, go right ahead. As far as the law is concerned you\’re entirely free to do that just as the law is entirely free to ignore that you have done so. Which many people do and the law does.

30 comments on “In which I agree with Julie Bindel

  1. My suggestion, made officially in response to the consultations, was that the state butts out of marriage entirely and simply licences partnerships. With exactly the same rights and privileges as current civil weddings.

    If you want to get married, go to a church or equivalent that will marry you. Some won’t if you are divorced, gay, refuse to convert to their denomination, agree to pay them a tithe or whatever.

    And I have no problem with the state licensing some (or even all) churches or clergy to conduct the partnership at the same time as the wedding.

  2. Agreed. And this indeed is how marriage used to be in Britain, so it ought to appeal to traditionalists. It was an entirely private matter, a civil contract. Nothing to do with the Church. The church spent a lot of effort over centuries dragging marriage into its grip.

    But this wouldn’t solve the Equalities Act type problem, since anyone (church, synagogue, mosque) refusing to offer a ceremony to teh gheys woulld be guilty of discrimination; the same as “we don’t hire our hall out to black people” kind of thing.

  3. IanB: no, they’d be explicitly not guilty of discrimination, because under these rules marriage would be a religious ceremony and not a community service, and hence exempted from discrimination legislation (the community service would be the civil partnership granted by the state; the marriage would be solely a religious sacrament of no practical benefit).

  4. A question: if marriage (or a civil partnership) is no longer to be confined between 1 man and 1 woman on the grounds of tolerance/liberty, is there any compelling reason to restrict it to 2 people?

    Why can’t a man be simultaneously be in a marriage/civil partnership with 6 women and 4 men, each who in turn have multiple partners of the same or opposite sex? Who may or may not all live together, and who may not necessarily know of each other’s existence (why have an obligation to disclose)?

    And if we go down this route, divorce (or the equivalent for civil partnerships) would wither. Why bother? Just move on.

    Any arguments over kids can be resolved under the Children’s Act anyway (marriage is now irrelevant). And we’d need to beef up rules on the dividing up of property (which presumably should be the same rules that apply to say 2 sisters who live together), but that’s all the legislative changes we’d need.

    Am not looking to be controversial, have genuinely wondered.

  5. I’m intrigued about that. Is it legal for the local vicar to refuse to marry black people (for instance)?

    No, it isn’t. Currently, the Vicar gets away with it because you cannot (legally) have a homosexual marriage and, until recently, you couldn’t hold a civil partnership ceremony with religious overtones or in religious premises. There is a current carve-out in Schedule 3 Equality Act for “gender re-assignment” – you can legally refuse to marry people of legally recognised different sexes if one of them has had “gender reassignment” surgery (and this is in accordance with the beliefs and rules of your religion.)

    Any change to the “gay marriage” rules would (has been promised to) involve a change to Schedule 3, in accordance with s35(1)(a) of the Schedule and I’d assume it would be similar to the existing one.

  6. @johnb

    Surely the Court of King Caractacus would then move on to regulating private arrangements inside religious groups because they are denying equal treatment?

    I say equal rights for Mistresses.

    And equal Mistresses for all.

    (Gender neutral, of course).

  7. “is there any compelling reason to restrict it to 2 people?” Not really: the current system is arbitrary, the proposed system is arbitrary, so there’s no particular reason not to change again.

    I for one would welcome the ability to marry several people, thus avoiding inheritance tax.

  8. To put the whole hoo-hah about marriage and “The Church” into perspective: marriage is only legal in England and Wales (perhaps Scotland too) if a licence is obtained from the Registrar, before the religious ceremony.

    Holding a religious ceremony alone does not make a couple legally married.

    It is then essentially a civil contract, religious input optional.

  9. Except that clergy (or officials) of numerous churches are permitted to act as the Registrar for weddings conducted in that church. Which used to be limited to the Churches of England or Scotland (the Church in Wales conducting services according to the rites of the CoE so equivalent to them.)

    This has been extended to other churches – notably, in this context, to the Quakers. Who have said they will conduct gay marriages, possibly even in defiance of the law, and historically don’t require you to be a Quaker or even a Christian to take part their services.

    Note that, in Scotland, I had to get a form from the Registrar to take to the Episcopalian service. But the marriage was licensed / solemnised at the service, not on issue of the form. Which was a good thing, ’cause Mrs S-E was at the hair-dressers.

  10. Ian,

    But it is the state licence (or equivalent state recognition of the religious service) that gives you the change in next of kin, the spousal exemption from inheritance tax, and the other state benefits.

  11. So, it may be worth considering splitting those functions up. The problem here is that while we’re supposedly having “a national debate” about marriage, it’s not really that at all, it’s just a push by the gay rights movement, which is a different thing.

    Marriage has served a variety of functions historically in human soceity and taken a variety of forms. If the current forms are inadequate for 21st century man and woman, perhaps we should change them. But there’s no generalised reassessment on the table. It’s simply “this one group demand the same status as those who currently have it”. For instance as noted above, why not polygamy? It is less revolutionary and far more precedented than gay marriage. What about concubinage? Shall we bring that back?

    next of kin, the spousal exemption from inheritance tax, and the other state benefits.

    Here’s an example I’ve often used; what about two spinsters living together as a unit in a non-romantic/sexual manner. This is actually quite common. Wouldn’t they like perhaps like those benefits and recognitions, without the “marriage” tag that suggest lesbianism (which they are not)? Why isn’t that on the table?

    So as I said above, why not spin off those arrangement separately; let us choose our next of kin, for instance, in a genuinely “partnership” contract without presumptions about romantic/sexual status. Wouldn’t that make more sense? Then, if one of our spinsters falls into a coma, it’s already official that her friend Miss Ellen Peabody is the next of kin with appropriate rights and powers. Regardless of their intimate relationship.

  12. Years ago I remember reading a report about marriage law reform, possibly by the Law Commission (memory is straining here I’m afraid, and mobile internet defeats google skills, so am hoping someone can fill in the blanks for me). Most of the committee made the sort of suggestions one might expect (about routes to divorce, division of property, access to children etc), but one went off-piste and submitted a proposal for the complete abolition of legally-recognised relationships.

    You could get married if you want to, to whatever combination of husbands and wives the civic or religious organization carrying out the ceremony permitted, follow religious courts if you wanted a divorce or annulment according to religious precepts, but as far as the Law would be concerned it would all make no difference. Practical matters about property, children and the family home would be decided on other principles. I remember being amused by how thoroughly thought-through and well-argued it all was, bearing in mind it stood zero chance of being adopted and even the other commissioners rejected it as impractically radical.

  13. Here’s an example I’ve often used; what about two spinsters living together as a unit in a non-romantic/sexual manner. This is actually quite common. Wouldn’t they like perhaps like those benefits and recognitions, without the “marriage” tag that suggest lesbianism (which they are not)? Why isn’t that on the table?

    Indeed – I believe there was a case challenging s3(1)(d) of the Civil Partnership Act by 2 elderly sisters living together in a very valuable house but with minimal income. Who saw it as a very good way of ensuring that one of them was not thrown out because they couldn’t afford the tax bill if the other died. They lost.

    Yes, indeed. Joyce and Sybil Burden.

    All the way to Strasbourg too.

  14. …and straying a bit off topic, that (#16) is a classic example of why judges should never render verdicts, and be reduced significantly to courtroom administrators and sentencers. Which is also another example of where we need to reassess institutional matters at a fundamental level.

  15. Just for laughs, while checking on the Burden case, I was pointed to an interesting religious-centered blog in which a comment contained the most unlikely phrase:

    which Ken Livingstone and other liberal minded people

    In what other context are you going to see Red Ken assumed as an exemplar of liberality?

  16. If (as they are) any ceremony organised by the state is a joke, then why not have any old clowns entitled to go through with it?

    Incidentally, Cranmer’s sonorous prose may be more useful than you think, and the reading of the banns a useful way of delaying things in case the fiancée miscarried.

    Which reminds me of a conversation between two old biddies my Dad overheard in Wales:
    “Our Mfanwy’s getting wed next week.”
    “Reely? I didn’t know she was pregnant!”
    “Ah, but she’s not pregnant, look you.”
    “Ooh! There’s posh for you.”

  17. “a conversation between two old biddies my Dad overheard in Wales”: in my day, everybody’s old Dad had heard that selfsame conversation.

  18. in my day, everybody’s old Dad had heard that selfsame conversation.

    Along with the “I walked into the village shop and everyone stopped speaking English and switched to Welsh”.

    Bullshit on one obvious ground: people who speak Welsh almost always do so as a first language, hence they would not be speaking English in the first place. Doesn’t stop half the people I meet who have been to Wales regaling it, though.

  19. Indeed – I believe there was a case challenging s3(1)(d) of the Civil Partnership Act by 2 elderly sisters living together in a very valuable house but with minimal income.

    There was one case like this, or perhaps might even have been this one, where gay rights groups came out opposing marriage rights for co-habiting, non-sexual couples. What a bunch of cunts, I thought. Not interested in equality at all, simply wanting special treatment they would deny others.

  20. I’m confused! I agree with something the Guardian has printed.

    Maybe 2012 will be the end of the world after all.

  21. Tim #23

    Sadly, the Crusadin’ Movement are inherently committed to the idea that there is a fixed pie that needs redistributing. They think this about “rights” as well; the more other people have, the less you have.

  22. Ian B – “Marriage has served a variety of functions historically in human soceity and taken a variety of forms.”

    I am not sure if that is remotely true for the West. Where marriage has been fairly stable and provided pretty much one function since, well, Roman times. A little variation between classes, but not much.

    “If the current forms are inadequate for 21st century man and woman, perhaps we should change them.”

    We could. Or we could recognise that the reason marriage is in trouble is that we pay people to f**k up their lives. If you pay single mothers to be single mothers, more women will become single mothers. If you encourage people to divorce – and when was the last time you saw a major newspaper *not* say divorce was a brilliant idea? – they will divorce. If we want to get out of any business, the sensible one is not marriage but the funding of the alternatives.

    “For instance as noted above, why not polygamy? It is less revolutionary and far more precedented than gay marriage. What about concubinage? Shall we bring that back?”

    Indeed. Why not? Except for the fact that there is a strong correlation between a lack of democracy and polygamy. Either open or de facto through concubinage. We would not survive as we are with polygamy – with poor men getting the short end of the stick. This is where social conservatives are, for me, most convincing. We have arrived where we are through a long process of evolution. We do not know what it is that makes us the sort of society we are. If we go about knocking down the existing arrangements because some childish whim takes us, we don’t know where we will end up or what we will become. Unintended consequences. Gay marriage is likely to be much less revolutionary.

    “Why isn’t that on the table?”

    Because it is cheating? We have marriage for married people. Not friends who are living together.

    Besides, our culture is heavily predicated on the outcomes of Christian marriage. We do not like girls being forced into marriages for instance. We marry for love. We try to raise children in stable families. All of those are ultimately dependent on the Christian view of marriage. If you decide the Christians are stupid, you will end up with other outcomes. Forced marriages are the norm for the human race. So is marrying for other reasons besides love. These things are inherently unstable and need to be protected. But if you don’t agree, at least don’t pretend that you can change major pillars of Western society and everything will continue on as before. It won’t. Although I admit we can’t be sure what will change.

  23. SMFS-

    You may be surprised/disappointed by this, but I am in general agreement with you. I was asking “why this radical thing and not these other less radical things?” not advocating any of them; the point was that polygamy and concubinage are at least historically precedented in many cultures; there is not a single example of homosexual marriage (or indeed, the recognition that homosexuality exists) in any other culture in history.

    Marriage on the other hand is not uneique to Christendom; again, it can be found in some form in every culture in history. Indeed, the Western form of marriage predates Christianity and Christianity had a hell of a struggle dragging it inside the church. This is where social conservatives get it wrong. People were getting married before the first evangelists arrived, just as people were getting married in tribes in New Guinea or prehistoric Japan or anywhere else you care to mention. It’s a natural human social institution, regardless of religion.

    And here again, the monogamous form of it in Western Europe predates Christianity too; it was not a Christian innovation. There is a gradient from the North West to South East Europe and into the Mediterranean; from nuclear monogamy through extended family systems (e.g. mediterranean) to middle eastern polygamy. My guess (I can bore for England on this) is it is down, originally, to agricultural systems.

    Christianity got its social values largely from the societies it colonised. That’s why it’s more individualist- well, except for certain Reformation sects. It picked something up from us, not the other way around.

    On the matter of marriage for love, there is much speculation as to how this arose, but nobody really knows. All we know is this strange “courtly love” phenomenon suddenly erupted; the ideal may have come from Persian poetry via the Crusades, but there’s no real historical record. My guess is that the lower orders were always marrying for love- that is, “I want that girl with the nice tits over there”- since serfs have no status or possessions worthy of properly organised marriage. Again, it’s probably just an ancient cultural tradition grandfathered in. We were a bawdy lot, being so far from the Orient, before those damned religious nuts got here and did their best to ruin it all. Our genius, perhaps, was changing them more than they changed us.

    But anyway, I agree about monogamy. I just wish the damned Christians would stop pretending they invented it.

  24. Bullshit on one obvious ground: people who speak Welsh almost always do so as a first language, hence they would not be speaking English in the first place.

    Agreed that the rural-Welsh-urban-legends are just that – but it is no longer the case that people who speak Welsh almost always do so as a first language.

    Welsh is a compulsory school subject throughout the Principality and has been for many years, with people who learned it at school now accounting for the majority of speakers

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