16 July, 2010


‘Argentina to allow gay marriage’ seemed important enough to make it to the front pages of the newspapers, although I should have thought almost none of the readership would have been remotely affected by the news.

But is it news? What can be done in those countries (Britain is one) where gay marriage is permitted which can’t be done in others? What does the institution of marriage mean nowadays?

Marriage is, or was, a societal norm kept in place by stigma, by what I hope is a now defunct ‘she’s no better than she ought to be’ culture. Until the middle of the 19th century in England (more complicated in Scotland), marriage had to take place in a recognised church, be it Christian, Jewish, Quaker etc. Unless you were married in this way children could not inherit.

Since then it has been legal to live together and have children, and since the 1960s it has been morally acceptable to live together, gay or straight. Now Britain’s new Prime Minister wants to ‘recognise marriage in the tax system’ (not, I think, gay marriage) which means the State giving advantages to those who conform to its moral code. This is something I regard as a dangerous departure, although there is already some recognition: if you leave your property to your spouse there is no inheritance tax whereas for two sisters living together or an unmarried couple, the tax applies.

No one disputes that a level of stated commitment is important in a relationship, but society is now comfortable with that no longer involving Church or State.

Marriage seems a concept past its sell-by date. Its only relevance is tax. You get a closer bond with a joint bank account.

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