Divorcing the state and marriage
George Osborne has argued in The Times that Conservatives should follow Obama's lead on gay marriage - but why can't Tories take a radical lead of their own?
There have many parallels drawn between Obama's victory in the US elections and the current problems faced by the Conservative Party in Britain.
Well, not so much between Obama's victory and their fate but between the fate of Mitt Romney and their own.
Electorally, it has been said, the Conservative Party is on the wrong side of the debate on gay marriage, as many commentators and professional strategists (if there can be such a thing) have noted.
Last night's pronouncement by George Osborne will commit his party to redefining marriage to include same-sex marriages. It is a testament to what many conservative voters, swing voters and party members are acutely aware of. Public opinion is in favour of homosexuals having the same rights, and benefitting from the same status, as straight couples. I agree with this principle. But there's a problem.
In the build up to the 2010 General Election, the party platform was less 'robust but saleable conservatism' and more cuddly dogs and hugs for electronically tagged miscreants. (I need hugs too, Mr. Prime Minister).
And it looks like 2015 will be scarcely different.
The opposition to gay marriage is not or should not be a definitively conservative principle. But same-sex marriage should be as unpalatable to the conservative mindset in the very same way as state recognised heterosexual marriage should be.
The state's monopoly on marriage should be busted open, leaving people to their own business. In terms of the recognition of union, from which married couples benefit, what else do you need but a document or contract proving the commitment which you and your partner have undertaken (if this at all).
Osborne, writing in The Times (£), said that, "President Obama’s high-profile endorsement of equal marriage for gay couples also enthused younger voters… polls found that a majority of all Americans supported him on the issue and voted for it in all four states that held ballots.”
Sadly, this is another reflection of how Tories are seeking to lead from behind. Following in the footsteps of Obama would, in reality, mean holding local referendums on the issue. Ballot measures passed in four states (Maine, Minnesota, Maryland and Washington) that asked the broad question of the respective state electorates as to whether or not they supported gay marriage. They all did.
But true leadership would be to take the state out of marriage entirely, not simply to follow the US example. Whatever happened to the 'radicalism', Dave?
When a Jewish boy turns 13, he heads to a temple for a deeply meaningful rite of passage, his bar mitzvah. When a Catholic girl reaches about the same age, she stands in front of the local bishop, who touches her forehead with holy oil as she is confirmed into a 2,000-year-old faith tradition. But missing in each of those cases — and in countless others of equal religious importance — is any role for government. Only marriage gets that treatment.
Osborne has attempted to channel Thatcher in his notes to the party. But the Lady's words, taken from her 1979 election manifesto, were specifically to do with extricating the state from the lives of the public. She said, "The heart of politics is not political theory, it is people and how they want to live their lives"
To me, that sounds less like a mandate for the state to redefine marriage and more like the words of someone who believed the state should have as little influence over people's lives as possible.
Instead of seeking to lure in votes by leading from behind, this government should take what is likely to be both a popular and principled measure of heeding what the Lady truly meant. Get the state out of our lives. For good.
Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor for The Commentator. He tweets at @RaheemJKassam
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