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Laura Perrins: Anti-marriage liberals have a barking mad new plan – to make marriage compulsory


What is a social conservative reaction to the proposal for mandatory marriage? Some alleged liberals think it is a great idea for cohabitees to have marriage-like rights should the relationship break down, which statistically is far more likely to happen in cohabitation than marriage. The debate is played out in The Sunday Times.

It seems that many adults can go through their entire adult life without knowing that there is no such thing as ‘common-law marriage’. I would have thought a public education campaign is enough to sort this one out, but no, instead it seems the only way of righting this wrong is to extend, marriage-like-rights to cohabitation. What is not to like?

From a conservative point of view the argument is that this is a bad idea as it will undermine the much more stable institution of marriage. Why bother getting married, if there is barely any difference between this and cohabitation?

There will remain, however, plenty of couples who still want to make the public commitment that marriage is. Considering how anti-marriage Western legal and social culture currently is, they are the new marriage refuseniks, if you will.

Certainly extending cohabitation rights will make no difference to those who view marriage as a commitment made in the eyes of God with the State merely being a poor relation. If you believe marriage is a sacrament, namely that the sacrament of marriage is both a sign and instrument of God’s grace, then a change in law on cohabitation makes no difference at all to this group.

What I do find bewildering is the ‘liberal’ stance on it. This mob on the one hand do not believe marriage is superior to cohabitation despite the outcomes for children brought up by married parents being far better than those of cohabitees. On the other hand by introducing marriage-like rights for cohabitees, they are essentially making marriage mandatory even for those who do not want it. It is all rather amusing.

Cohabitation-marriage-like-rights throw up a number of different problems, many of which will just end up with more litigation. First, it is fundamentally illiberal.

A couple may have intentionally opted not to marry for many different reasons. Perhaps they view the institution of marriage as patriarchal and oppressive to women. They think it is ‘just a piece of paper.’ Whatever the reason they are adults and they have said no to marriage in the only way they can say no – they refused to get married.

Now, however, the State says, nice try but should you split up we view you as married whether you like it or not and we will extend marriage-like rights on the dependent partner to claim again the earning partner (as these things usually play out). We are the all powerful State so you just have to lump it.

So our cohabiting couple has one option against this proposed State imposed mandatory marriage regime. They can go to solicitors to draw up an opt-out contract. The courts will have to take a view on this if legislation does not. Was there independent advice? Was there any undue influence? Are the terms of the opt-out agreement fair? Lots of opportunity here for litigation and this is before you even get to splitting up the resources. Couples will be litigating about terms of the litigation. A lawyers’ dream.

Then there are the sliders – people who slide into cohabitation. I assume this group is the focus of the proposed mandatory marriage scheme.

These are the couples that live under the mistaken belief that there is such a thing as common-law marriage. They have cohabited for years and split up 10 or 15 years down the line with three kids to boot. The carer, and it is usually the mother, thinks she can claim as a wife. She cannot. Maybe the father knew this and wanted it this way; maybe he didn’t. He has to maintain the children but there is no obligation to maintain the mother who may have given up a career to take care of the kids.

At a human level I have great sympathy for these cases and it is the taxpayer who must step in to keep mother and kids afloat. But the liberals must accept if they are going to extend marriage-like rights in these cases the State is acting as protector and provider for the mother/carer.

I was under impression that the liberals believe that adult women are in no need of protection from men, the State or indeed anyone else. They are independent adults and if they first live under the mistaken impression that they will be taken care of should a cohabiting relationship break down, then it is their problem when they are left high and dry should it not work out. It is not for the State to step in as patriarch to force the now ex-partner do to the decent thing – so any logical liberal argument should go.

So let’s call a spade a spade. This new mandatory marriage regime proposed by the anti-marriage liberals is first grossly illiberal for those who have issued a firm no to marriage. Secondly, it involves some good old-fashioned State protection of mothers and dependent children for those who made a serious error in judgment. Neither sounds very liberal to me.

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