Never let it be said that the Liberal Democrats are against marriage - in fact they’re so keen on it that at their conference they voted for a motion that effectively forces marriages on commitment-phobic men.
The Cohabitation Motion is aimed at giving cohabiting couples (whether they have children or not) rights currently only enjoyed by married couples.
MP Julian Huppert explained:
'Cohabitation is on the rise, creating families of all shapes and sizes. In the UK more and more couples, different sex and same sex, are choosing to live together without entering into civil partnerships or getting married. In 2010 more than 15 percent of all families in the UK were living as cohabiting couples. This represents a doubling in numbers from where they stood in 1996, a trend which is set to continue.
'These couples may have invested time and energy into bringing up children, making a home warm and welcoming and into the relationship itself. But if the relationship breaks up they are afforded little protection under law. The often believed concept of ‘common law marriage’ simply does not exist – although many couples trust that it will protect them.
'Women tend to lose out in this system, equality and fairness lose out, and ultimately love loses out under uncertain laws and sour court battles. It is time to do what we do best and this starts now.'
As Ronald Reagan might have said, the thirteen scariest words in the English language, when uttered by a politician.
Marriage is a contract in which a couple make legal commitments to each other, and because the state is the enforcer of contracts it is therefore interested; any other consensual sexual relationship rightfully is no business of the authorities, unless it compromises employment or other legal or security procedures.
So for the state to decide that someone has committed to a relationship, when they have done no such thing, is not very liberal. After all, if a couple want to be 'protected' ie mutually responsible for each other's financial wellbeing, then they are free to get married; by not getting married they are choosing not to make that commitment, and it is not up to the authorities to say they have.
Otherwise when does the government decide that you have committed? When you’ve moved in together? A drunken snog? As someone observed, this could mean that if you have sexual intercourse with a flatmate, then you are financially liable.
Have you had sex with your flatmate? That could mean you owe then money #ldconf http://t.co/z7PDWjzri2
— Michael W Story (@MWStory) September 16, 2013
Proponents of cohabiting rights are trying to square two circles, the ideas of sexual freedom and sexual equality; they arose as part of the same broad movement, but the two goals constantly clash (as freedom and equality do). Male feminists tend to be more interested in the former, unsurprisingly.
When you liberalise the sexual market by taking away traditional restraints on things like pre-marital sex, then inequalities arise, both between the sexes and within them. Given a chance to live commitment-free with a woman and enjoying all the benefits of a relationship, many men will and do just this; sometimes they then end the relationship, towards the end of her fertile years, and move on to someone younger.
This is tragic and unfair, but it seems a bit odd that social liberals in favour of throwing off the shackles of social conformity often try to resolve the subsequent injustices by getting the state involved (see New Labour passim). Yet whenever the state tries to intervene in human relationships, usually by trying to compensate those who do not enjoy the economic, cultural and social advantages of marriage, they make things worse.
The human heart is a mysterious thing, and when it comes to family relationships the state should avoid liberal intervention - too many unknown unknowns, and they invariably end up empowering the bad guys.