Married Or Not: Stop Telling Us How To Live

14:26Ciaran McCormick

The Conservative Party Conference this year included the proposal to give tax breaks of up to £200 a year to married couples. The financial benefit is insignificant, but the rhetoric that has surrounded this policy has troubled me. We live in a society with a inflexible definition of a normal way to live your life. However, we must accept that people choose to live in an infinite set of circumstances. Some are married or in civil partnerships. Others are single or in an unmarried committed relationship. Some are in a happily polygamous relationship or live in any other way that suits their vision of a good life. Distorting the tax system to conform to the conservative ideal of a married nuclear family is offensive. It undermines those that are already disadvantaged by the prejudice people have against their lifestyles.


This is what David Cameron had to say about the issue in the Daily Mail, hardly known for respecting diversity in society. "I believe in marriage. Alongside the birth of my children, my wedding was the happiest day of my life...There is something special about marriage: it's a declaration of commitment, responsibility and stability that helps to bind families. ' Cameron may well believe in his own marriage, but that does not mean that everyone in society should follow the same principle. Whilst I would want to follow down this stable, happy direction myself, I respect that a lot of people will not choose to follow this path. The tax system should not be based on a value-laden judgement on which types of relationships are more worthwhile.

This is social engineering. It is not trying to financially incentivise marriage. Anyone who would get married for a benefit of just under £4 a week is probably not going to uphold the institution of marriage. Being married already has its financial benefits as both can pool their resources and support each other. Instead, this policy reinforces a value system that glorifies marriage as the most stable, committed way of organising and strengthening a family. This is a fantasy that ignores the strongest of non-married families and the ruins of endless marriages. I hope that this blog post is articulate enough to show that my own background of an unmarried family has not left me unintelligent, undernourished with love or lacking ambition or prospects.

Indeed, even calling marriage an institution serves to uphold this conservative value system. It makes it seem historically sacrosanct and treats it with reverence. You rarely hear about the institution of civil partnership, the institution of polygamy, the institution of single parenthood or the institution of an unmarried partnership. These are all treated as lesser commitments, mostly by people who are married. An afterthought is often now added to the promotion of this policy. Cameron will say that it equally applies to gay couples wishing to get married. However, we must recognise the darker legacy of marriage. This institution has excluded gay couples and inter-racial unions. It has allowed women to be legally raped by their husbands because consent was assumed to be automatic.

This value system that promotes marriage is also backed up by a stigma of being single. A single parent is absurdly stereotyped as poor, young, female and a bad parent. There is a lot of social pressure to commit to a relationship. A lot of this is peer pressure when social activities begin to be dominated by couples. Indeed, even many ordinary activities are impossible to do alone without feeling some of this peer pressure. Going to a film or eating in a restaurant alone is tinged with a social stigma. The WikiHow guide to eating alone in a restaurant includes useful advice on how to sit far away from other people and eat your food as quickly as possible. I must admit that when eating with friends I feel sympathy for people in this situation. Nonetheless, we must acknowledge that people should be able to live in their own way. Just because we have our own pattern of friends, family and partners does not mean that it is the only or the best arrangement. Giving married people tax breaks ignores the deep complexity of society. It makes the unmarried feel inadequate because they do not match the image of the ideal family broadcast in the media and politics. How would you feel raising a child in an unmarried family and being told that only married couples can provide a stable, loving environment?

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