Cameron is right on cohabitation

The Daily Mail reports that David Cameron has slapped down Henry Bellingham, a Justice Spokesman, who proposed equal rights, including property rights, for co-habiting couples, after some qualifying period of co-habitation.  He is right to do so.
Tory traditionalists fear the proposal could undermine marriage.  They too are right.  Many of us have doubts about “Civil Partnerships” for same-sex couples, and for similar reasons.  It cannot be stressed too often that there are three parties in a marriage — and not the three that Princess Diana famously referred to.  The three parties are a man, a wife and society.  Society chooses to recognise the public declaration of commitment inherent in marriage, because society recognises that its future depends on the next generation, and that stable marriages are overwhelmingly the most promising environment for raising children.
That argument does not apply to same-sex couples — nor to the anomalous position of two heterosexual bachelors buying a shared house for economic reasons, nor to two widowed sisters sharing a home.
But there is more to it than that.  To insist that cohabiting couples must be bound by the same responsibilities as married couples is to deny choice to those who have freely chosen not to marry.  They may have their own reasons.  Certainly if they had wanted the privileges of marriage, they could have married.  They may for their own reasons prefer to be free of those responsibilities.
And this is by no means special pleading for men, who have traditionally been the breadwinners, and who may prefer cohabitation because it enables them to walk away without responsibility for their erstwhile partner.  In this brave new 21st Century world, it may well be the high-powered, highly-payed career woman who wants to keep her options open, and be able to walk away from a feckless house-husband.
At the end of the day this is an issue of freedom.  Today, a couple can choose to marry, and assume the responsibilities of marriage; or they may choose to cohabit, and retain their freedom and flexibility to break up a some future point untrammelled by responsibility.  Indeed if they wish they may ask their lawyers to draw up some sort of pre-cohabitation agreement.  That is their freedom to choose.  Let’s keep it that way.  Let’s not impose responsibilities on those who have not chosen to accept those responsibilities.

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7 Responses to Cameron is right on cohabitation

  1. I like your comment “there are three parties in a marriage … a man, a wife and society”.

    People should have freedom to make whatever private contracts they like on things like inheritance, hospital visiting, shared finances. But I think we, as a society, have an interest in promoting marriage for one man and one woman.

  2. In the eighteenth century, the government decided to register all marriages. Why has this custom been phased out? If every cohabitation had to be registered (and then cancelled if necessary) that would have an enormous effect on the children and also, I think myself, on the permanence of parents.
    Children’s homes are not much fun. But, like Belsen, they are not much talked about.
    Add in a nice little tax break, and what is wrong with that?

  3. Roger Helmer says:

    Thanks Mike. But the objective is not to make cohabitation more formal and more like marriage — it is rather to leave people a choice, by making a clear distinction between marriage and other life-style choices.

  4. sam says:

    You are absolutely correct. The ironic thing about the idea about making cohabitation akin to marriage is that the prospect is almost always couched in terms of “fairness” and “equality”, of course the reality is that it is anything but for it will force those who have no desire to be married to be effectively married by default.
    I also think that as most cohabitees CAN marry if they so wish- a touch of Occam’s razor applies here i.e. the simple answer is almost always correct and that the reason they are not married (with all it entails) is because they have -for whatever reason- no desire to be married.
    It strikes me as very strange that people can be -rightfully- anti- forced marriage but be in favour of this proposal- for what is this proposal if it is not a form of forced marriage by the state?

  5. Athirat says:

    I’m pretty sure God is meant to be the third strand of a marriage. Society is a meaningless tautology, it is a social construct.

    And your reasoning for exclusively heterosexual marriage does seem a little convenient. I don’t believe it would stand up to scrutiny – since when has the reason that we have recognised marriage as exclusively heterosexual been anything to do with the future generation? I feel you may be reasoning here after the fact.

    At least St Paul was honest when he admitted he believed that the only reason to insist on marriage is to stop men from buggering oi malakoi. Because surely this is what marriage comes down to – a morally-acceptable social norm, or in other words, a tedious social construct with a basis in values rather than fact.

    I’m not advocating a valueless society. I do believe that the heteronormative values that you espouse in your posts are, however, far seperated from society as it stands.

    • Thanks Athirat. Society is a social construct? Put like that, of course it’s a tautology. But I believe, with David Cameron, that there IS such a thing as society! I certainly know what it means.

      As a conservative, I believe we should respect the wisdom of our forebears. If human societies from the earliest times have recognised and celebrated marriage, it is a strong bet that marriage is an institution worth preserving. In my opinion, it is the anchor and lynch-pin of a civilised and moral society.

      • I want a second go! This evening i am teaching some Polish Mums English. One of them asked me if I thought she ought to get married to her fiance. I found out, after a short conversation, that she really wanted to get married but that her fiance, having all the sex, household, love and children he could ever want without any vows being taken, was hesitating.
        I just wonder how many women my Polish Mum was speaking for…….
        And, of course, when it is your Mum or your Dad we are referring to, things quickly become crystal clear. As a child, you need permanence, because that is what a Mum and a Dad do.
        So what about gays, what about people who loathe each other but who are married? Hard cases make bad law.

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