Marriage and the Elections

Tuesday, 20th April 2010 at 14:21 UTC 4 comments

I had an interesting chat with a friend who works at Church today about the different parties and his main concern was Labour’s attitude on marriage, which he saw as uncommitted and against Christian interests. There were several things I said that feel like they should be noted down, so I’m going to do it here.

First of all, Labour’s policies for this general election are not anti-Marriage. There are some disparities in the tax system that do need ironing out. What is clear is that the Tories are prepared to offer patronising gestures to married couples, where Labour haven’t. What Labour are offering is a smaller program of public sector job cuts (which would be bad for people in the public sector, their marriages and their kids), and further public investment to lift us out of recession (and take the strain off poorer families, providing stability).

The Conservatives are also threatening to shut down Sure Start centres across Britain. Its true that Sure Start has been seen as a policy aimed at single mums on housing estates, but it cares without discrimination for all low income families; its a good initiative, and its having a brilliant impact on families. Further more, its dealing with the situation as it stands: telling a single parent to get (re-)married before you give them help is patronising and unhelpful. Marriage is for the long term, Sure Start is dealing with today’s generation of children and parents, and I hear nothing but positive feedback on the services offered.

Stability was an interesting area. Whilst I do agree that stability is good for marriage, and often a product of marriage, I don’t think there’s a direct relationship between the two. After all, think about the stability experienced by “forces families”. And a recession can be a big strain on families. I’m not going to deny that marriage creates stability in many cases, but other factors can play a part.

The fact is, having an economy that works for families is more important than having government handouts to married couples. The taxation system needs ironing out to ensure it is fair, or we will either end up with marriages of convenience, or, as is currently claimed, co-habitation of convenience. Neither is a positive statement for marriage, perhaps least of all if people are in it for the money.

We also touched on the issue of bogus marriages for asylum purposes. Seriously, these don’t happen very often, and if you’re a Christian shaking your head at people getting married for immigration purposes, think about CS Lewis. And then remember that these ‘sham marriages’ account for very few relationships each year, probably only as many as student loan marriages (you don’t declare your parents income if you’re married, only your spouse, who is also studying).

And then there’s the wider issue of marriage: why does the church, which has one vision of marriage, get involved in the state’s vision of marriage. I much prefer the Spanish system (Civil Partnership with state for tax purposes, Marriage entirely within the church). Then when the church starts talking about Marriage it can be clear what it means, rather than just following cultural codes and state convenience. We did it with baptism and birth certificates 400 years ago, so why can’t we do it with marriage and partnership? Then Christians can promote marriage, not some kind of tax arrangement, and can avoid some of the confusion.

Of course, much of the confusion is just completely ignored by the church. I’m always struck by the way my Mum shows total ignorance to people’s concerns when complaining that people who live together haven’t “got round to getting married”. There might be many reasons for not getting married, including past and parental experiences, different understandings of what marriage is, how it should look, etc. For many in the church today, marriage is only positive, for many outside, it is only negative, and there seems to be no willingness to deal with that disconnect.

If the Church wants to fix marriage, its welcome to do so, but it mustn’t expect the government to do the job. What the government needs to do is shore up the economy to protect all families, be they two parents or one parent, and provide a financial foundation for each and every member of society to build a firm future on. And as my friend Alex Peck put it so nicely on facebook:

“I’ve just done a wikipedia search on George Osborne: he literally has zero experience in economics. He did a degree in modern history, worked in the ministries for agriculture and food and health, and as a script writer to William Hague…and then became shadow chancellor, naturally. This guy could be in charge of our economic recovery :-S”

And that’s bad news for married couples, and £3 a week isn’t going to reverse that. Just because Labour don’t talk Marriage, doesn’t mean they’re against it; they may even create a better starting point for the church to talk about its vision for marriage.

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Entry filed under: Britain, Conservatives, Economics, Elections, Labour Party, Politics.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Betty  |  Tuesday, 20th April 2010 at 22:08 UTC

    Student loan marriages (you don’t declare your parents income if you’re married, only your spouse, who is also studying).

    That’s such a good idea!

    No, really.

    Reply
    • 2. Graham Martin  |  Tuesday, 20th April 2010 at 23:51 UTC

      So good two friends in Manchester are married for exactly that reason, and I suspect a few more couples of it as well. Full loan, full bursaries, nuff said.

      Reply
  • 3. Greg  |  Wednesday, 21st April 2010 at 16:33 UTC

    Why did I never think of that?

    Reply
  • 4. Helen  |  Thursday, 22nd April 2010 at 16:12 UTC

    Ceri and I nearly had a student loan civil partnership.

    Reply

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