Monday, 7 April 2014

How to marry your own daughter

Now that marriage is a notarial contract of cohabitation recogized across the EU, it is time to look at the other out-moded and frankly offensive restrictions on whom one can register as a partner. It is ludicrous that one can register someone else's son or daughter and thereby pass one's wealth free of inheritance tax to them, but not your own child. If two people love each other, why shouldn't they get married?

This does not mean incest is going to be legalized. Sex between certain categories of blood relative remains a crime  under s.64 and 65 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.   It may be this needs to be revised too but for the moment, let that obtain.   Sex is no longer a required or even assumed ingredient of what it means to have a notarial contract of cohabitation, so that need not detain us.  Neither is it strictly necessary to cohabit.  The declared status still stands, even if you do not spend much time in the same country as each other.

The concern here is with grown children who take on the responsibilities of a partner and yet are shut out from any of the benefits of that status.

It is unfair for example, that an aging gay son who has spent many years looking after his mother should be obliged to pay tax (if the estate exceeds the IHT threshold) just because he has stepped in to the role that his late father might have otherwise performed.   He can register a contract with  the old man next door, he could always have married the old lady next door,  he could become the spouse of the son or daughter next door, but not be his own dear old Mum's recognized partner, although he already is in every relevant sense.  Where is the justice in that?

Or, consider aging siblings who have to make complicated wills, living together but never being able to take advantage of the same tax arrangements as any other more distantly related couples. Why can't you marry your brother if you have ended up as his carer?

At the moment you cannot register as the partner of more than one person at a time, but since the Netherlands leads the way in allowing notarial contracts of cohabitation to apply to to multiple signatories, that could also change.  The old bigamy laws must give way to new modes of inheritance whereby a parent can register as the partner of several children, friends, relatives etc. Why can't you have more than one partner?  You can in commercial law.

Alternatively, abolish inheritance tax as it is incompatible with the primacy of the notarial contract of partnership. 

 The Telegraph is also interested in this,. They look at in the light of the current legal situation  but cannot face the logic of marrying one's own children. 

If two men can get married, it makes no difference which two men it is, or if it is more than two of them.

10 comments:

Rightwinggit said...

If you marry your own relatives, you get Norfolk.

Anonymous said...

No, that's Suffolk :-)

JuliaM said...

Mostly, you just get odd folk.

Woman on a Raft said...

Ironically, there is no IHT on farms so Norfolk is one of the places you do not need to marry your relatives in order to keep family assets intact.

call me ishmael said...

Well worth waiting for, mrs woar.

You may recall that I posited inter-species marriage on admittedly less practical but thoroughly neo-liberal, Love-Is-All-There-Is, post-Rabelaisian grounds, the same groundswell of unstoppable self-fulfillment which propels the man-marrying-man climate must logically warm the hearts and loins of the bestiality inclined citizen. That was my reducto ad absurdum. If a man can "marry" a man, a man can "marry" a dog" Both are as absurd.

And although I agree entirely with the logic of what you say, with the compassion of the argument I cannot agree that simply because we have erred in this latest farrago of Rights-become-Nonsense we should therefore ceremonialise what ought to be accepted by the state without question - siblings, chilrden, whomsoever, carrying out the duties of spouse towards another should be entitled to the rights of spouse, come they in the form of benefit or taxation allowance or anything else; it is due to the insolence of office that people labour still under the yoke of nit-picking, hair-splitting, cheese-paring appellation.

ageing man said...

WoR - "Ironically, there is no IHT on farms so Norfolk is one of the places you do not need to marry your relatives in order to keep family assets intact. "

Yes but they do it in Norfolk anyway, as they just think it makes sense !

Mark Wadsworth said...

That seems like a reasonable and logical point of view, but I think scrapping IHT is the slightly less radical option.

"Where's Suffolk?"

"Suffolking idea."

"Sorry, I mean: Where's Norfolk?"

Woman on a Raft said...

"Ceremonialise" is the important word, Mr Ishmael. Historically, it was only at the start of the Victorian period that the state thought it could offer marriage registration at all. Victoria became Queen on 20 June 1837, and on 1 July of that year (meaning the legislation moved under William IV) marriages could be solemnized in a register office.

Amongst the state's arguments was that it could not force people in to church so it was better to offer them a formal registration in a civil office because otherwise they would continue to live together and then find that English law did not hold with the concept of common law marriage at all. The deal was struck that so long as register offices did not pretend to be offering any kind of religion, the churches would accept that this was a better alternative for those people who would never darken a church's doors anyway.

Since then there has been a tactless, but I think analytically correct, view that a civil marriage is not a marriage at all and never has been. It is just a civil registration which confers a comparable legal status for state purposes.

So long as the state made civil registration mirror religious marriage, which itself grows out of the sociobiology which predates the state, then the fudging of terms would work. Tony Blair understood this and created a separate registration which was similar in effect but disturbed hardly any of the existing legislation. Again, the churches withdrew their opposition on the grounds that this was a better option for people it was unlikely to see anyway. And they were promised this would be the end of the matter.

Why on earth Cameron decided to upset a working legal fudge is another mystery for the files. He seemed to think he could by law change the content of the word. He is about to find out that words do not always work the way Peter Mandleson told him.

I focus on IHT because as Mark says, abolition of that is the less radical option. If Cameron abolishes this, it removes one of the remaining big distinctions between civil registration and being a de facto spouse. It reduces the argument to one about words rather than money.

It also obliges Gids to unhand about £3bn a year, so Cameron can see exactly how much his meddling has cost him. I think that kicking them in the wallet is the second-best way to make this point.

Mark Wadsworth said...

WOAR: "So long as the state made civil registration mirror religious marriage, which itself grows out of the sociobiology which predates the state,"

Not actually true. "marriage" is a purely cultural thing, different societies over the years have had different definitions, it is only since mediaeval times that European countries decided to officially register marriages.

A good example is "uncle marriages" in Austria and Catholic parts of Germany after WWII.

War widows only got a pension until they remarried, so to keep the neighbours happy, they would do the whole marriage in church thing, but never bothered to officially register it.

Do these people count as married or not? Depends on whom you ask, doesn't it?

Ditto foreign polygamists coming over here and claiming benefit for their "wives". That seems pretty abhorrent to us Brits (does to me, at least), but in their country, that's normal.

callmeishmael said...

Yes but we can only speak of, debate, the definition and understanding of the notion of marriage in the -broadly speaking- here and now, doesn't matter a fuck what polygamists do. And even if we historicise the pair-bonding of our species, the life-mating - which, I understand, is not exclusive to homo sapiens - we find that its sexual orientation is a matter of species survival, aesthetics and pleasure, stuff hinted at in marriage ceremonies civil and ecclesiastical; such bondings have been bi-genderal, heterosexual and are described rightly and accurately as normal, it is the undermining of the concept of normality which so offends those opposed to gay marriage, the ghastly homogenising of our lives. I used to like, admire and support queers, I simply cannot be doing with gay people now preposterously demanding the right to be straight. This legislation, like most of it, erodes the hitherto vital notion of Otherness and is the very opposite of egalitarian.