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Marriage and the State

By Barry Stocker
May 27th, 2013 at 6:46 am | Comments Off on Marriage and the State | Posted in Uncategorized

Sara Scarlett recently put up the the post The Problem with Gay Marriagethe main point of course being to question the involvement of the state in marriage rather than to reject marriage rights for gay. I’m not in total agreement with Sara, but she raises some points which are important, and which should be discussed. We may end up one day, with no state sanctioned marriage, but that day is some way off, and I do not think it is absolutely necessary to liberty and equality.

The manner in which ‘marriage equality’ has been established in Britain is flawed. It is not complete equality since divorce for gays cannot be on the grounds of adultery, apparently because of lack of agreement on how to define the relevant sexual acts. Gays can have civil unions and straights cannot. Sorting these issues out is secondary though compared with the issue of whether the state should provide marriages.

There is a social evolution in Britain, and similar parts of the world (and within ‘cosmopolitan’ enclaves in other parts of the world) where marriage is considered less and less mandatory as part of life experience, and simply sharing living space is taken as a sign of commitment to a long lasting relationship. Does this make state provision of marriage unnecessary and even harmful? I have to say no, at least for the foreseeable future. No great harm comes to any couple, because other couples have a state licensed marriage.

Marriage is still a popular institution, and there does not seem to be any great demand to make it a matter of purely private contract and ceremony. The existence of a publicly sanctioned form of marriage, with associated legal rights and obligations, suits most people as a way of communicating and celebrating, their decision to commit to a life together, and put themselves under a certain amount of social and practical  pressure to stay together. State defined marriage is not a great burden on the tax payer and does not obviously harm people who do not participate it, so the case for eliminating it anytime soon is surely small. There are a lot of other state activities I would put ahead of state marriage as damaging, and I don’t see that it would be worth going to any trouble to dispose of it, except as a tidying up measure if the number of people using it does decline to a very small residue.

The other issues that Sara raises are around Victorian moralising and polyamory. On Victorian moralising, Sara makes the point that the equal marriage campaign has often been conducted in term of showing that gays are respectable moral people, who do not do sexual promiscuity. That is true to some degree. As previously, there was a prevalent cliche of gays as wildly promiscuous, this is perhaps no more than a useful corrective, though not to be taken too far. There is nothing new about a movement towards emancipation and equality being conducted in terms of the high moral character of those seeking emancipation, including a personal life of sexual restraint. That certainly came up around abolitionism (with regard to slavery), national liberation from empire, racial equality and the women’s movement. Mary Wollstonecraft’s feminist classic A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) puts a great deal of emphasis on arguing that women do not need male guidance in order to avoid becoming the victims of seducers. Mozart’s operas which show aristocratic men as sexually promiscuous had a political point to make against aristocratic power.  Black victims of slavery and state enforced racism have wanted to created distance from racist stereotypes of uncontrollable lust, and to appear ‘virtuous’ in private life according to the standards of the time.

We should hope that we are coming to the end of the period where those who suffer discrimination, and out right oppression, should not feel the need to demonstrate sexual ‘virtue’. Despite changing sexual standards, and generally greater tolerance or openness (if tolerance seems to minimal a gesture of respect for others), there appears to be little in the way of a lobby for officially recognised polyamory. The biggest impetus in that direction probably comes from religious conservatives within Islam along with old school Mormonism and forms of officially sanctioned adultery within Orthodox Judaism. Realistically, these are all ways in which traditions from another time, when constant low level inter-family conflict diminished the number of men, are being maintained in ways which are discriminatory against women. One could argue that this is only damaging where it is enforced by that state, but my position is that in the world as it is, state discrimination against religiously sanctioned sexism is preferable in some circumstance to pure state indifference towards practices that had been sanctioned by the state for centuries, and is better for liberty overall. I’m really sure that w0men are better off in those Muslim countries where the secular state only recognises marriage between one man and one woman.

Polyamory, or what used to be known as ‘free love’, has been tried at least since utopian communities of the nineteenth century,  has never taken long term, and appears likely to mostly lead to patriarchal dominant males accumulating partners. There appears to be a very strong human inclination towards at least trying to have a long term unique relationship, often with attempts at strict monogamy. Of course such relationships often end, and covert polyamory often creeps in where they do last. However, the need to try to make such relationships last, and to push other relationships to the margins if they cannot be avoided, appears to be extremely strong and persistent. I believe we should discuss contracts suitable for polyamory, as well as those couples who do not find the standard marriage contract satisfactory, but unless polyamory greatly increases in popularity and marriage greatly declines in popularity, I very much doubt that the cause of liberty would be served by attempts to abolish state marriage or put polyamorous relationships on an equal legal basis.

Anyway, many thanks to Sara for starting this discussion. I hope she does not feel I have misrepresented her in any way. We should continue to discuss this, though I think the practical consequences should be greater flexibility in the public contracts on offer for intimate  relationships, rather than the more radical suggestions.

Finally, the philosopher Elizabeth Brake (currently at Arizona State University) published a book recently advocating something similar to what Sara suggests: Minimizing Marriage: Marriage, Morality and the Law (Oxford University Press, 2012). Further details about the book, and a podcast interview with Brake can be found  by clicking here.


The Problem with Gay Marriage

By Sara Scarlett
May 26th, 2013 at 3:00 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in Civil Liberties

I’ve spent the past few days since the Gay Marriage vote having mixed feelings about the result. Whilst I welcome greater equality and acceptance for homosexuals, I believe that government has no business sanctioning or prohibiting the relationships of consenting adults – homosexual or otherwise.

There is also a bigger question: are we moving towards a greater tolerance of diverse relationships and lifestyles – or is society mostly only happy to tolerate gay couples if they behave just like straight monogamous couples? We still haven’t shaken off the cloying vestiges of Victorian Morality.

We are slowly seeing more calls to tolerate individuals who choose to be part of polyamourous relationships but few discussions as to what role government should play, if any. I can’t help feeling that we missed an opportunity to re-examine the role of government in the relationships between consenting adults and this leads me to question whether we are really moving forward in a progressive fashion.

It’s also important to remember that progress looks like indifference – not toleration. If you see a gay couple and you think, “Oh, there’s a gay couple. I am happy to tolerate them,” that’s not progress. We will know we have achieved progress when more and more who see a gay couple don’t have any type of thoughts whatsoever.

EU – It really is getting sillier by the day

By Editor
May 24th, 2013 at 10:42 am | 7 Comments | Posted in EU

The Telegraph reported yesterday that EU is to drop the idiotic “olive oil jug ban” after public outcry.  In case you missed the story, Brussels bureaucrats had decided that it was in the interests of the consumer to ban the use of jugs, cruets or bowls to serve olive oil in restaurants. It was justified as necessary because of alleged “frequent” fraud in restaurants and we, the public, required help for our own good. Never mind that such legislation could well have seen the end to many small artisan olive oil producers who rely on the restaurant trade for their livelihood and that no one (other than industrial olive producers) wanted it.

As it turns out the EU had no “evidence” of malpractice – just anecdotes. Eventually criticism from Holland and Germany led by Jose Manuel Barroso, the EU commission president, (and whose father was a small artisan olive oil producer), managed to halt the legislation.

Two questions. How on earth did this insane proposition ever get as far as it did? And where was the UK on all of this? We abstained from the vote. Questions must surely be asked.

Liberal Democrats have defended the European Union for as long as this blog has been in existence (and some). But such stories appear all to regularly, and the excesses of Brussels seem to be growing rather than diminishing. No wonder the public’s appetite for the EU is at an all time low.

Read more on the issue here: “It’s Silly, Costly, And Evidence Free – But Let’s Make It Law Anyway”

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We should turn Britain into a tax haven

By Editor
May 23rd, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Comments Off on We should turn Britain into a tax haven | Posted in Uncategorized

Hat tip: Interesting comment piece in The Times today [paywall] from Mark Littlewood, Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs and founder and former blogger here at LV.

In his article he argues that rather than bash wealth-generating companies we should attract them by cutting and simplifying tax.  He makes a point that we have been thinking over here..

“Last year the Prime Minister appeared to understand the benefits of these footloose multinational companies. He promised to “roll out the red carpet” to French entrepreneurs and companies seeking to flee the astronomical taxes planned by the new Hollande administration.”

“Moreover, a centrepiece of the Government’s economic strategy has been to cut corporation tax to 20 per cent by 2015, to encourage companies to relocate to these shores. For the UK to embrace a competitive tax environment is smart economics, apparently. It’s just that we don’t seem to much like other countries doing the same — and more successfully.”

A mixed message, that’s for sure.

Do go have a read


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Renewable Energy vs. Shale

By Sara Scarlett
May 23rd, 2013 at 10:44 am | Comments Off on Renewable Energy vs. Shale | Posted in Economics

Um… if these figures are correct (£29bn investment = 30,000 jobs) then by implication it costs £1,000,000 to create 1 job in renewable energy?

Contrast with shale gas where £50,000 = 1 job (£3.7bn investment, 74,000 jobs).

Maths is fun.