The real meaning of lifestyle choice
Published in: Daily Mail
The relentless war against the family in Britain continues in the highest court of the land. Baroness Hale, the veteran ‘lifestyle choice’ radical who, as a member of the UK Supreme Court, is the country’s top female judge, has called for cohabiting couples to be given more legal rights.
According to the Times (£) Lady Hale admires the situation in Scotland where the law is different, and in which the Supreme Court recently upheld a ruling by the Edinburgh Court of Session which ordered a man to pay his former cohabiting partner nearly £40,000 after their relationship broke down.
According to Lady Hale, Scottish law on this issue was both ‘practicable and fair.’ She said:
‘It does not impose upon unmarried couples the responsibilities of marriage but redresses the gains and losses flowing from their relationship.’
Family lawyers have backed her up, saying:
‘The current situation for people who live together in England and Wales more often than not creates injustice and hardship, and our current law fails to reflect the way people are choosing to live their lives.’
But the whole point is that cohabitation is the way they are choosing to live their lives. They could choose to get married. They choose not to, because they do not want to be married. They may want to preserve their independence; they may be averse to making a commitment to another person; they may think marriage is an outdated institution. Whatever the reason, it is their choice not to get married.
But marriage is an institution which inescapably confers obligations on those who enter into it. It is a solemn commitment – the most solemn commitment – one person can make to another. It entails above all obligations between the spouses. The benefits that accrue to marriage are ineradicably bound up with those obligations.
The absence of legal protection in cohabitation follows from the fact that, unlike marriage, cohabitation is a loose partnership between individuals who remain ultimately free of each other; they can walk out of the relationship with no strings attached. This is the ‘lifestyle choice’ they make. If those benefits are bestowed on people who choose not to undertake their concomitant obligations, this is not only fundamentally unjust. It vitiates the very nature of a contractual or covenantal agreement. If those who choose to duck the commitment of marriage can nevertheless obtain its benefits, this makes a mockery of and undermines the institution of marriage itself.
For sure, cohabitation often results in hardship, very much more so indeed than marriage. Cohabitation breaks down far more frequently than marriage, and even more so after the birth of any children. Cohabitation is therefore one of the most significant factors behind Britain’s catastrophic and galloping phenomenon of mass fatherlessness, the single most important cause of so much misery and harm for both children and adults, and the major cause in turn of unquantifiable damage to society.
If people want to avoid the hardship they very understandably fear will result from the absence of legal protection under cohabitation, they can choose to get married. That’s what marriage is for. To bestow this legal protection upon cohabitation is to turn the ratchet of family breakdown another notch. First you undermine marriage by removing the stigma of ‘living together’, illegitimacy and unmarried motherhood; then you turn the ratchet by hymning the sanctity of ‘lifestyle choice’ and the social acceptability of cohabitation as an alternative to marriage; then you turn it again by bestowing the benefits of marriage upon un-marriage, thus incentivising a socially destructive phenomenon which will create yet more misery and harm.
Lady Hale’s call is not for justice in family life but gross injustice. It is yet another boost to our rights-without-responsibilities, something-for-nothing, me-first culture which has already advanced the destruction of family life in Britain, created regional deserts of social and moral breakdown and made victims out of the most vulnerable.
It is also strangely outdated. The reckoning for Britain’s catastrophic rate of family collapse is now in: the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, for one, is currently struggling to pick up the pieces. Lady Hale, by contrast, seems still to be stuck in the subversive seventies. The rest of us have now moved more soberly on.