Monday, November 28, 2005
The Relentless Logic of the Civil Union Arguments - Reductio Ad Absurdum Anyone?
The relentless logic of the civil union argument leads us into some very strange moral cul de sacs. Take a look at the work of a guest contributor to the Times of London.
I want to get hitched to my chick
By Carol Sarler
I'm pro civil partnerships for gays — but why can't I sign up to one with my daughter?
OH, HAPPY DAY. From eight o’clock next Monday morning gay couples are free to shrug off their shroud of discrimination and register their intent to join together in civil partnership; from December 21 the confetti may fly over the ceremonies themselves and by 2010 it is expected that up to 22,000 people will be thus spliced. I would deny them none of it and would not dream of raining upon their parade — if only, that is, I were allowed to march in it too. But by a bizarre twist of legislative incoherence, I am left behind nursing indignation that it now falls to me to protest for equal rights with my lesbian neighbours.
This is not the well-chewed argument that claims heterosexual couples should also be allowed civil partnership; maybe they should, but at least they may marry if they yearn for a legal cementing of their relationship. No. I am concerned for the heterosexual who wishes to cement a same-sex relationship, for exactly the same reasons as many gay couples, but who has become discriminated against because of his or her sexuality.
If I were gay, I could pop into a lesbian dive, pick up a cute little chickie, install her in my home and then, giddy with optimism and desire, trot her off to the register office a month later and make her my civil partner. Romance aside, by doing so I would be protecting the person I love most from the potential for financial disarray that, quite sensibly, is a frequently given reason for wanting to do it at all.
We would enjoy the mutual pension rights and the tax breaks of a married couple, including the chance to use each others’ capital gains tax allowances. Were I to be run over by a bus, if we lived in a council flat the lucky girl would be allowed, as are wives, to stay in it. If we lived in my privately owned home, she’d also be sitting pretty: totally freed from inheritance tax, she could own every brick of my estate.
As it happens, I do live with a cute little chickie and have done for 32 years. She is the person I love most, there is no possibility of that ever changing, yet I cannot protect her at all. Come the killer bus, the rise in house values means that there is no way that she could possibly afford to pay the taxes on my estate; she would be flung out of the only home she has ever known, paying the price for being not my squeeze but my daughter.
Ah, you say, but even if it were allowed, it would be incautious to enter into a civil partnership with her; she is young and may yet prefer to move on. Suppose she does and suppose I then invite my sister, who is divorced as I am, to share my home so that we may see out our sunset years together. And suppose, again, that I die before her. Uh-huh. She’s out on the street, too.
There’s no scope, either, to extend civil partnership and its attendant benefits to a pair of unrelated spinsters who have lived together for dozens of companionable years . . . although that does invite the grotesque spectre of two old dears trying to pretend they have sex, just as other pairs of old dears, since time immemorial, have feared that they had to pretend they didn’t.
Having or not having sex is, in fact, germane to the proposition of civil partnership as an equivalent of marriage. As the new law stands, it appears to support the view that gay couples, just by dint of their choosing to be together, become exactly the same as heterosexual couples who choose to marry. In a marriage, however, consummation by sexual intercourse is its legal completion; in a civil partnership, it would be impossible for a dissolution to be sought on the basis that he or she wouldn ’t . . . well . . . wouldn’t what, exactly?
The list of those “prohibited” from entering a civil partnership scrupulously apes those prohibited from traditional marriage, including parents, siblings, nieces and nephews. Why? The customarily disallowed marital pairings have evolved, in our society as in most, out of a need to guard against incestuous conception; gay couples in civil partnerships aren’t going to be conceiving — at least not with each other they’re not — which makes whether or not they have sex pretty much immaterial.
And if it’s immaterial whether they have sex and impossible that they may breed, it is difficult to understand why any two people of the same sex who are prepared to make as serious a commitment to a civil partnership, serious enough that it can be ended only by annulment, formal dissolution or death, should not also be able to do so.
The practical benefits of such unions could be huge. National statistics show the traditional family unit heading for meltdown, with almost eight million people living alone. How these people are to be looked after in old age is unresolved — but perhaps it need not be.
A commitment to a civil partnership is a commitment to a person. The “sickness and in health” of conventional marriage is not so much a sexual as a moral tie; where there is a chosen one above all others, a mutually caring unit is established and stability is promoted above caprice. Loneliness is held at bay, isolation is thwarted and devotion is rewarded, some sad day, by the simple security of a roof over a deserving head, be it gay, straight or otherwise.
Such perfect sense does it make, that a cynic is left with no other conclusion than that someone, somewhere, has done the math: he’s calculated the value of giving in to pressure from the “pink pound” while not giving another penny from the coffers of, say, inheritance tax to any among the rest of us, and decided that it balances beautifully. It’s probably all very clever. That doesn’t make it equitable, logical or right.