Mandelbrot set image very small
Fresh thinking from a
Muslim Briton
Follow @Mohammed_Amin
Join my
email list

Search this site

Custom Search
Tap here for MENU

Why the state should exit the marriage business


Posted 6 October 2011

I believe that conflicts around issues such as marriage, civil partnerships, gay marriage and polygamy arise primarily because the vocabulary we use is confusing and has too many underlying presumptions. Accordingly, I recently posted an article on the political website Conservative Home setting out my views. It is reproduced below.

Mohammed Amin: The state needs to exit the marriage business

Mohammed Amin is Vice Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum but is writing in a personal capacity.

Marriage or its absence has suddenly become very topical:

Why is there a problem?

Whenever you use the same word for two distinct concepts, you create problems.

  1. Many years ago, I went to a registry office and became legally married to Tahara.
  2. That same afternoon, at her parents’ home we had a Muslim wedding ceremony.

The civil wedding conferred some tax benefits (married man’s allowance still existed then!), gave inheritance rights in the event of intestacy, was relevant for state pensions etc. The religious wedding meant that it would not be a sin for us to have sex. My wife and I are in two distinct relationships, a civil one and a religious one; calling both relationships “marriage” confuses the majority of Britons who are not experts in law or theology.

Our country does not criminalise pre-marital or extra-marital sex, and any combination of adult men and women can live together and have children without state interference provided none of the relationships is incestuous. Despite eliminating religious issues from sexual relations, the state only offers one type of legal relationship to heterosexual couples, namely marriage, which brings with it all of the baggage of its religious origins.

I believe the religious baggage is the reason so many Britons (including Ed Miliband MP until he became Labour Party leader) avoid getting married, despite having children together. In my view the residual association of civil weddings with Christianity is also the reason so many Muslims have a religious wedding but decide to skip a civil wedding.

What we should do

The state should offer only one type of legal relationship to couples, a civil partnership, with each individual only capable of being in one civil partnership at a time. This should apply regardless of gender.

While it may seem harsh, I would keep a set of exclusions whereby certain family relationships (e.g. siblings or parent and child) precluded the possibility of a civil partnership. Otherwise the scope for avoidance of inheritance tax becomes too great.

The legal process for entering into a civil partnership should be as simple and as cheap as possible. If the couple want a celebration event with an audience, they can go elsewhere; organising parties is not the role of the state!

The benefits from change

  1. It would immediately eliminate the second class status of civil partnerships as perceived now by gay people.
  2. It would put an end to arguments about polygamy and polyandry. Every citizen, regardless of religion, could only enter into one civil partnership. How many other men or women they wish to have sexual relations with, and the words they use to describe their relationship, are both personal matters for them and no concern of the state. That is no different from the current legal position regarding concurrent multiple sexual relationships, but the change in terminology would help to take the heat out of polygamy and polyandry.
  3. It would enable a simple and clear marketing message by the state to people entering into relationships. “If you live with someone without a civil partnership, you lose the following benefits……” This message would carry no religious or historical baggage. It would be a much easier sell to those people, including some Muslims, who avoid civil marriage almost as an act of protest.
  4. Page 41 of the Conservative Party manifesto 2010 talked about recognising marriage within the tax system. This would be much easier to do if the “moralising” implications of the word “marriage” were eliminated.

Fundamentally, it is not the role of the state to tell people how they should live their lives from a religious viewpoint by pressing or bribing them to get married. Even though we currently use the word “marriage” to describe both religious relationships and civil relationships, everyone knows that the origin of the word is a religious one.

However the state has every interest in encouraging people who live together, especially if they have children, to enter into legal relationships that are clearly defined in terms of rights and responsibilities. It is entirely legitimate for the state to give tax and other financial benefits to citizens who are in such relationships if the state considers that to be for the good of society. In today’s Britain it is much easier for the state to promote such a legal relationship if it comes with no historical or religious baggage, i.e. a civil partnership.

David Cameron has talked many times about the breakdown of the family in Britain. It is well established that parents who are legally married stay together on average twice as long as parents who are not married. The Conservative Muslim Forum statement on the recent rioting stressed the need to get values back into the home and school. As explained above the Government can promote civil partnerships far more vigorously than it can promote marriage.

Comments and a related posting

The above article gave rise to a number of comments. For copyright reasons, they cannot be reproduced here, but they can be read along with my responses by going to the original article on Conservative Home.

In his speech to the Conservative Party conference on 5 October 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron mentioned that the Government would be consulting on extending marriage to gay couples (mentioned above) and made clear his preference for doing so. That prompted the article Paul Goodman: If gay marriage is recognised, why not multiple sharia marriages? That article also received a number of comments which can be read by following the link. I wrote one myself which is copied below and which distills my piece above into a few words:

As I explained in my piece [above] the problems come from confusing two things:

  1. A civil law relationship. Civil law is under the full control of the state and can be changed as the state wishes.
  2. A religious relationship. Religious relationships are defined entirely by the views and beliefs of those who are the parties to the relationship, and the religious communities to which those individuals belong. The state simply has no power or legitimacy in this space.

I fully support gay people being able to have the same type of (1) relationship as do I and my wife Tahara. Conversely, my religion, Islam, does not recognise any type (2) relationship between gay people.

I don't have the energy or finance to be polygamous, and Tahara would never allow it! However if I wanted to take a second wife within a type (2) relationship, I would not regard the views of the state as remotely relevant. Conversely I would accept that the state did not regard my second wife as having a type (1) relationship with me.


The Disqus comments facility below allows you to comment on this page. Please respect others when commenting.
You can login using any of your Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or Disqus identities.
Even if you are not registered on any of these, you can still post a comment.
comments powered by Disqus



About me

Contact me

One page view of entire site


Religion and community cohesion

Islamic finance

Book reviews

Thought for the week

Israel / Palestine dispute

Success tips

What you can do


TV radio & video

Muslim Council of Britain

Film reviews

Site philosophy


Twitter Feed

Custom Search

Follow @Mohammed_Amin

Tap for top of page

Each of us changes the world every day. We can choose to make it a better place.

(c) Mohammed Amin.

Everything on this site, other than comments made using the comments facility, is written by me in a personal capacity and should not be attributed to any organisation with which I may be associated. None of it constitutes professional advice, and no legal responsibility is accepted to anyone who acts, or refrains from acting, as a result of reading or watching anything posted on this site.

Comments made on this site using the comments facility are the responsibility of the individual comment authors. If you consider that any comment defames you, please email Mohammed Amin using the facility on the "Contact me" page, specifying the page, the comment author and the date and time of the comment, and the reasons it is defamatory so that the comment can be removed.

I do not use cookies to track my visitors or to gather data on them. This website is enrolled with Google Analytics to enable analysis of visitors by geography, browser type, new or repeat visitors etc. and Google may use cookies. See how Google uses data when you use Google's partners' sites. If you do not wish to have your data used by Google Analytics, please visit Google Analytics opt-out browser add-on and install the add-on.

The ownership of this site is stated on the "Legal" page. Mohammed Amin is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to