Having this bug that's going round I felt quite disconnected while reading the Telegraph yesterday morning, something I admit with guilt, given the attrition flu and fear are visiting upon Mexico and Texas.
Then I hit upon an article by John Bingham entitled (in the print edition) Couples with children 'should be married by the state'. The proposition, by Professor Julian Le Grand - "the architect of a clutch of New Labour Policies" - would change the status of an unmarried couple without children to married "by default" once the first child arrived.
I was somewhat torn - for there no longer to be illegitimate children would of course be a wonderful thing, and seems to approach the medioeval European position on marriage when, we are informed by Guy Brandon, author of Just Sex, "a marriage could be contracted without a ceremony or witnesses, if they simply promised to each other that they were married." But Brandon continues - and here, I suspect, he starts to deviate from Legrand's worthy musings - "the community enforced the man's responsibilities, particularly in the case of pregnancy".
That last part is key: the article finishes with a quote from Catholic MP Anne Widdecombe: "if the state comes along and says 'we will marry you anyway', all you will get is that men won't accept paternity of children".
Prof Le Grand coined the term "libertarian paternalism" to describe his position. The Telegraph leader described this as "not just nannying [but] frantic micro-management by a nanny who has been at the sherry bottle". Or, as Tim Worstall puts it, "can we just accept that...certain of those proposing libertarian paternalism are proposing a nasty subset of social facism?"
I don't quote either of the above lightly. A recent post of Radagast's invites us to consider, with the Telegraph blogger Ed West, "Is Britain the world's first politically correct totalitarian state?" A journalist for The Australian, among all the stories of oppression of non-politically-correct views, chooses an enlightening centrepiece:
In September 2006, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, Codie Stott, asked a teacher if she could sit with another group to do a science project as all the girls with her spoke only Urdu. The teacher's first response, according to Stott, was to scream at her: "It's racist, you're going to get done by the police!" Upset and terrified, the schoolgirl went outside to calm down. The teacher called the police and a few days later, presumably after officialdom had thought the matter over, she was arrested and taken to a police station, where she was fingerprinted and photographed. According to her mother, she was placed in a bare cell for 3½ hours. She was questioned on suspicion of committing a racial public order offence and then released without charge. The school was said to be investigating what further action to take, not against the teacher, but against Stott. Headmaster Anthony Edkins reportedly said: "An allegation of a serious nature was made concerning a racially motivated remark. We aim to ensure a caring and tolerant attitude towards pupils of all ethnic backgrounds and will not stand for racism in any form."However racist the grounds for much persecution, the major campaigns, both on the part of Government and organisations who have percieved a gain in pandering to governmental prejudices, are on grounds of religion. Consider Nadia Eweida, banned by British Airways for wearing a cross at work; Lilian Ladele, threatened with the sack from her job as a registrar because it was against her Christian religion to "marry" homosexuals; Caroline Petrie, threatened with loss of both her job and nursing registration for offering to pray for a patient; or a secretary, currently faced with the sack from the school where she works after asking for prayers in an email that never reached a school computer.
Worse still, another post that Radagast links to starts by informing us that "A UK Catholic bishop has condemned a plan by Oxfordshire health officials to allow girls as young as eleven to order the abortifacient morning after pill by text message from their school nurse".
This is concerning for more than one reason. The one that isn't immediately visible is that in the UK there are various ages at which one is judged competent to do things - sixteen to legally have sex or join the armed forces, seventeen to get a driving license, eighteen to vote, etc...
However, there is a minimum age in each costituent country of the UK beneath which consent for absolutely anything is meaningless, and where asessments of competency are by no means guaranteed to protect professionals supplying goods or services inappropriately. In Scotland this age is indeed 11, but in English Common Law it is 13. It was, however, depressing to discover that this is so little thought about in England that I had to go to a Scottish document to confirm its existence (The Evangelical Alliance Scotland's response to the Scottish Law Commission Report of Rape and Other Sexual Offences) - "We recognise that 13 is the age...used within similar offences within English law" - p5.
In Just Sex, Brandon quotes a 1926 article from The Atlantic, written by "A Woman Resident in Russia" and entitled The Russian Effort to Abolish Marriage. The author informs us that when Lenin's Bolsheviks took power in 1917, "they regarded the family, like every other 'bourgeois' institution, with fierce hatred, and set out with a will to destroy it":
So one of the first decrees of the Soviet Government abolished the term 'illegitimate children'. This was done simply by equalizing the status of all children, whether born in wedlock or out of it...At the same time a law as passed which made divorce a matter of a few minutes, to be obtained at the request of either partner in a marriage.Let me be clear, I'd rather children be born into cohabiting relationships than not be given the chance to be born any day. But given Anne Widdecombe's prediction of the whole scheme of cohabiting parents being married by the state resulting in the situation of men not accepting the paternity of children, possibly exacerbated by couples getting divorced before the child's head has been wet, then how would this whole scheme of the state assuming the functions of a church as regards marriage play out?
It is not a rhetorical question: it's happened before. Here's our "Woman Resident in Russia", in a continuation of the quote in Brandon:
Sounds familiar - have we all been asleep?
Men took to changing wives with the same zest which they displayed in the consumption of the newly restored forty-per-cent vodka..."[Men] have children with all of [their wives], and these children are thrown on the street for lack of support!"...It was not an unusual occurrence for a boy of twenty to have had three or four wives, or for a girl of the same age to have had three or four abortions.