My initial reaction to David Cameron’s announcement of a bill to introduce same sex marriage, back in 2011, was to that it must be meant as a distraction – something that would draw people’s attention (and the front pages) away from something altogether more sinister.
Since the, I’ve come to the depressing conclusion that the Prime Minister really is as incompetent as he appears to be – creating policy on the cuff, substituting sound-bites for sound argument, treating the business of government like a rolling PR exercise for the Conservative Party. The Opposition isn’t much better, as yesterday’s announcement about cutting winter fuel payments for wealthier pensioners illustrates – nice sound-bite, quick headline, touch of class war, no detail, no costing, not thought through.
Interestingly, both proposals revolve around the concept of fairness – the visceral cry of every 5 year-old in the face of perceived injustice – “but it’s not fair!”.
It’s not fair that rich people (other people) should get the same benefits as poor people (people like us). It’s not fair that people who have paid nothing into the system (people who smoke, breed like rabbits and have sofas on the front lawn) should get benefits whilst people who have paid into the system (people like us) get nothing.
So, when we talk about fairness and equality are we really talking about envy, privilege and a sense of entitlement? Do same-sex couples want the same rights as opposite sex couples, or the same privileges? Should marriage attract legal and fiscal privileges? Should we do away with marriage as a legal rather than a social arrangement altogether and treat all adults as equal before the law – wouldn’t that be true equality?
I would like to suggest that in the frenzied rush to support “equal marriage” and the equally frenzied rush to support “traditional marriage”, both sides (and those in the middle who don’t seem to feel strongly either way) have missed a trick. What we should be doing is going back to first principles, asking what marriage is for, whether we still need it and, if so what should it look like.