Sunday, 7 February 2010

Times: Progressive and very stuck
Sunday, 7th February 2010 by Mark-Anthony Falzon

There's nothing more annoying than half-baked ideas. Especially when they masquerade as pro-gressive but are in fact as 'new' and 'fresh' as the holed socks at the bottom of my drawer. I'm not referring specifically to Labour, by the way - they're not the only self-proclaimed progressives around, nor do they have exclusive rights to the word.

Take 'the family'. It has become de rigueur to declare that 'we're seeing new forms of family' and then go on to mumble something about 'public discussions' on cohabiting couples, gays, family-friendly policies, and such. Nothing remotely tangible, just a bunch of vague buzzwords and more hot air than is trapped inside Richard Branson's toys.

Let's say there are indeed new notions of family we need to take on board. It's mad to spend your life trying to define family and to create some legal tangle ('cohabitation rights', 'civil partnerships', and so on) that attempts somehow to accommodate everyone who is not happy with a cat for a companion. Useless and quite unnecessary, because there's a simple solution. It's called 'marriage'.

Let's start with gays. Catholic Church and the imam aside, few would argue these days that gay men and women should not live with their partners. Most sane people recognise that gays have feelings, that they have a right to be in live-in relationships, and that those relationships need to be regulated in some way. And yet the minute 'marriage' is mentioned, poor Gaby Calleja is left standing alone. Or maybe in Patrick Attard's arms, which won't do.

Half-baked idea number one. It does not make sense to declare that gays should have equal rights and that their partnerships need to be regulated, and then to shy away from saying that that regulation should be done in the normal fashion. Marriage is the word. If you're afraid to say it, you're not progressive.

How about heterosexual couples? You'd have thought things are clearer-headed at this end, but they're not. Again, talk of 'the family' has become a convenient device to complicate matters and buy time. For example, we can see that marriages are becoming less stable. Knowing the argument will take us to a world beginning with 'd', we happily take a detour to 'family'. If marriages are becoming shorter-lived, we have to strengthen them by means of 'family-friendly' measures, the classic argument goes.

Only, I doubt how many people really believe throwing money at couples will make them stay together longer. If that were the case, richer couples would be more stable. Elizabeth Taylor, for one, would be coming up to her diamond.

Childcare centres and the like are a great idea (even though the expert family therapist told us on telly that they ruin the family). They can make the lives of functional couples much easier. What they cannot do is make dysfunctional couples functional. So no, cheaper electricity bills and tax rebates will not do the trick. They are just another half-baked idea, a distraction from the real issue.

That being that, a solution must be found to regulate marriages which end well before death do them part. That solution exists. It is ancient and almost all countries have it. But we're afraid to go there. So, if family-friendliness doesn't work, we proceed to try out another distraction.

How about regulating cohabitation, the progressives scream. I hope these smart arses know what they're talking about. To give cohabiting couples automatic rights is for the State to jump into bed with people. It means two people cannot cohabit freely, without legal implications. Hardly progressive I'd say. I'd have thought the way forward would be to regulate those who choose to be regulated, and let the rest do as they please. The former system is called 'marriage', by the way.

Ah, the progressives say, but how about those who cannot get married? How do we cater for these 'new forms of family'?

Presumably they mean people who are trapped in previous marriages, and gay couples. Again, the solutions are easy.

In the first case, people should not be trapped in marriages. If, for whatever reason, they decide their time together is up, they should be free to move on. Provided there is legislation that regulates the continuity of kinship responsibilities after marriage, and therefore protects children. On gay couples, I've said.

These two solutions are called 'divorce' and 'gay marriage'. If you like to talk about 'new forms' but don't like to go all the way, you're not progressive.

What we need is a spot of back to basics. Marriage has existed in every known society in history. It's a wonderful invention. It allows people who want to combine partnerships with rights to do so. It also leaves the rest, call them families or whatever else you will, to do as they please. Marriage is so wonderful, in fact, that we should make it available to as many people as possible.

As for the 'new forms of family', who cares? I might choose to call my dog 'family' (many people do), but I will never be able to marry my dog. He's too fluffy, and in any case he's an animal and animals cannot consent to marry people. Even progressives must draw the line somewhere.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times´ website.]

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