Is marriage still special or well past its sell by date?

PUBLISHED: 16:15 03 November 2017

Rose and Peter. Photo contributed by Rose and Peter.

Rose and Peter. Photo contributed by Rose and Peter.


Liz Nice asks why the State has failed to catch up with reality when it comes to the way it discriminates against deliberately unmarried couples.

I once mistakenly thought that someone loved me, and then realised many years later that actually, their ‘non love’, which had seemed very like love to me at that time, had been better than some of my actual loves. Who can define these things, anyway? Although the Government seeks to.

Recently, my other half of 24 years (but no ring), attempted to apply for a passport for our eldest son, only to be told that, despite the fact that they share the same surname, he could not do so unless he provided a letter from me confirming that this was OK.

Being named on the birth certificate meant nothing, it seemed. He wasn’t proper, just because he and I had never stood in a church or register office and blathered on about how much we intended to stay together until death do we part.

In our 20s and 30s, I remember smug friends of ours smugly telling us how much marriage had ‘changed things’. Did I mention how smug they seemed?

Well, they seemed smug, to us, anyhow.

After all these years together, I recall that emigrating to the US in 2001 changed things – it brought us closer because, initially at least, we had no one else to rely on. Meanwhile, having children together was the real game changer. Once you’re parents, the idea of staying together ramps up a significant notch. But do I think that if I suddenly put on a white dress and ring and made a promise in front of family and friends, 23 years of life together, sometimes great, often mundane, sometimes pig awful, would be wiped away to nothing and all that would be keeping us together was a piece of ruddy paper? I do not.

The Government’s determination to institutionalise love and commitment is pretty hardcore. Tax breaks. Inheritance. Children. After 24 years, other half and I are still way down the pecking order behind people who have been married or in a civil partnership for just a single day, in terms of how genuine our commitment to each other is viewed by the State.

The other day, I had a visit from a very nice man, Peter, who quietly and somewhat sadly spoke to me about this problem. 26 years ago, he met a woman, Rose, whom he quickly grew to love very much. They have endured redundancy and other difficulties. They have built a home together, built up savings. And they are happy because it turns out that this is actually possible for some. What they are not, however, is married. And this is where Peter’s difficulty lies. “I would marry Rose tomorrow,” he said, “but she was burned by marriage once and does not wish to be again.”

‘So what?’ you might say to yourself.

That’s their problem. If they don’t want to get married, let them suffer the consequences! But why should there be consequences? And there are some, let me tell you. Because if and when Peter dies, he will not be able to pass on his share of their home and savings to Rose without seismic tax implications. The same would be true if Rose went first. An unmarried couple doesn’t get the tax allowance a married couple, or civil partners get. An unmarried couple can leave each other only £350,000 without the other partner having to pay tax at 40%. Thus, once their home and savings are factored in, Rose will be left with quite a bill – one that would not exist if they had simply signed a piece of paper.

Leaving the figures aside, there is a principle here. The point that, because they are not married, their love doesn’t count.

Is this right? Or fair?

Just get married! I hear you shout. But why should the Government get to decide that we all jump through the same hoop?

Isn’t this a basic matter of liberty? Should the State get to tell two people who have lived together for 26 years that their relationship is worth nothing? Many people go into marriage without a lot of thought, yet their fluffy white nonsense is worth more just a day after taking place than 26 years of love and contentment and mutual support. Peter has written to his MP. He has written to the Treasury. He got short shrift. No one cares.

Just do as we’re all told, is the general response. But “is that right?” Peter asks. We all know marriages that have endured but are, in reality, worth nothing. People who exist in mutual loathing and disappointment, who stay together for the kids, who cheat on each other, deceive each other, run each other down to their friends. That smug couple I recall in fact can barely stand to be in the same room with each other these days.

Yet their marriage, all those unhappy marriages, even marriages that haven’t lasted, are STILL worth more than Peter and Rose’s happy un-marriage.

Tell me that’s not wedding cake for thought.

Peter says:

“I consider the current situation significantly goes against our basic Human Rights. Why should we be singled out for unfair treatment? I have contacted David Cameron, Theresa May, Nicky Morgan, Baroness Shepard and Baroness Altman. Only the latter replied but she said she couldn’t help. Figures show that religion is falling away fast, while divorce numbers are the highest since 2009. In 2016, there were 106,959 divorces - an increase of 5.8% from 2015. So much for those who say that only married couples and civil partners are in ‘recognised and committed relationships’. The Treasury are only interested in screwing money out of long term partners who have paid tax on their earnings, paid tax on their savings and tax when they die. Where is the fairness in that? I well remember Theresa May’s comments on the steps of Downing Street when she was elected Tory leader and more recently at the Tory Party Conference when she said she wanted ‘a society that was fair to all.’ Maybe I misheard her?”

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