Friday, 24 August 2012

Marriage and the Modern Tory

A huge amount of debate has been raised by the national press over the past few months on the issue of gay marriage, incensing many on both sides of the opinion spectrum. One group that faces a rather peculiar dilemma as a result of this is British conservatives.

As a conservative, I believe that the family is an essential building block of our country. Good social behaviour and, for that matter, good citizenship both begin at home and are strongly encouraged by a stable family life. To young children, the family can act as an analogy of the state. Being taught to behave well in a family environment from a young age can therefore have huge advantages in later life. These same beliefs were in the Conservative Party's election manifesto, and remain on its website. On account of this, it seems reasonable to encourage the raising of children in such an environment with tax benefits. These benefits are bestowed according to the official recognition of the relationship between the couple who wish to raise their nuclear family in this manner as a "marriage".

There is something slightly odd about this, and it certainly has nothing to do with the recognition of same sex couples in such a system, although that serves to highlight the issue quite nicely. Why does a party primarily concerned with restoring rights to the individual and removing state interference where it does not belong feel the need to judge whether a couple's relationship is or isn't "valid" in its eyes? Surely this is yet another manifestation of swollen central government, leading to such debates as are being encountered now as to whether, for example, the state has the right to set such a precedent before the various religions that a country is host to.

The abolition of state control over the institution of marriage would eliminate these problems. Choice would be left instead to the beliefs of each individual couple and to whatever religion they might choose to attach themselves. The result of this, however, would be a complete loss of the much-needed ability to reward and encourage the growth of stable families. Instead, this would probably have to be conducted on a case-by-case basis, calculating how many people of each age group there are in a household, how long they spend at home &c., matched against the key features of the government of the day's "ideal" family. This is also not a very good system, leading to further problems of its own without even reducing state interference in a particularly meaningful way.

It is very unlikely that there will be a satisfactory solution to this issue soon. For the time being, people's relationships and family lives will remain a political football. The point remains, however, that a government taking such a powerful hand in private lives as a matter of course should leave a very bad taste in the mouth of any right-thinking conservative.