The inequalities of same sex marriage

Gerry Lynch has had a couple of contributions recently on the subject of extending marriage to homosexual couples. The coalition’s legislation has often been called “Equal Marriage”. Historically the marriage of a man and a woman has been heavily discriminated in favour of by legislation. This has been justified by moral and religious positions, discussion of the benefits of marriage between a man and a woman as a building block for society, a platform for the bringing up of children etc.

Morality as a guide in these matters is favoured by many but is problematic in the extreme as on this subject the moral views of various people who would perceive themselves (and be perceived by others) as moral differ. Some regard homosexuality as immoral, some that it is moral: equally some regard premarital sex as moral, some as immoral. Morality also of course extends to all manner of things completely unrelated to sexuality where once again there are at times divergent views between “moral” people.

Equality has been promoted as a better method of reasoning to allow same sex marriage. After all if society legislates for (and even encourages) heterosexual marriage the theory follows that it is inequitous to fail to do likewise for same sex marriage.

The new law, however, will leave a number of inequalities and creates a new set of inequalities some of which even more glaring than the previous inequality of only permitting marriage between a man and a woman.

Most of these inequalities have been extant since civil partnerships were created: a few, however, will be exacerbated by same sex marriage.

A homosexual couple will be able to avail themselves of a civil partnership or a marriage. This is in stark contrast to a heterosexual couple who only have the option of marriage if they wish to have a formal legal arrangement: a clear inequality against heterosexual couples.

The next set of inequalities relates to the financial advantages of both marriages and civil partnership. People who are not sexually / romantically linked are unable to avail themselves of these financial advantages. This means that a pair of siblings or any other non sexually / romantically couple who have lived together for decades cannot avoid inheritance tax when one of the pair dies. This is a particular problem in many rural areas where farming siblings may have lived together for years and shared in the work and whatever prosperity they may have achieved. Usually, however, the property is in the name of one of the pair (usually the eldest male) and the other could end up with inheritance tax forcing them to sell their property which is their only major asset. Such siblings are surely an example of a civil partnership (albeit non sexual / romantic) yet they are discriminated against by the old civil partnerships law.

Polygamous relationships are legal (and moral) in Islam and in a number of African cultures. (Polyandry was practiced in Tibet but banned after the Chinese invasion). However, UK law provides no rights to the second simultaneous or subsequent wife (or husband). As such if a Muslim man wishes to have a second wife she will fail to gain the property rights etc. applicable under UK law. A polygamous family are unable to avail of the advantages of either civil partnership or marriage. In actual fact the situation is much worse for polygamists: Polygamy is a criminal offence in the UK and one which is at times prosecuted.

At least sexual relations with two different women (or men) are not illegal. However, UK law still criminalises incest between consenting adults. This is the most clear example of inequality. Consenting homosexual activity (initially between over 21 years old and more recently from age 16) is entirely legal: incest is, however, illegal even between adults. Any attempted justification relating to the risk of deformed children is of course utter nonsense as by that logic a couple who had a child with cystic fibrosis (and hence, a 1 in 4 risk of an affected infant with each subsequent child) would be banned from sexual activity.

Many of the above options (polygamy / polyandry and consenting incest) may be regarded as “gross”, “icky” or whatever. In reality that means that people regard them as immoral. However, for many years exactly those sorts of views were held towards homosexuality (and still are in some quarters). In reality the civil partnership law and the proposed same sex marriage law does not produce equality. It simply changes the situation from discrimination against all except heterosexual marriage into discrimination in which it could be argued that same sex couples have the most rights (civil partnership and same sex marriage). Heterosexual couples have the next most rights (marriage but not civil partnerships). Next come non sexually / romantically linked couples with no specific rights. Then polygamous (and polyandrous) groups who not only have no specific rights but are in danger of legal sanction if they try to obtain such. Then finally are biologically related sexually linked adult couples for whom the very act of sex is a criminal offence.