One of the staple plot themes of the drama, opera and ballet of past centuries is the business of marriage. Usually, this is centred on who might marry who and for what reasons. Typically, there is confusion, errors, deceit and sometimes general mayhem.
What is at the centre of all this is the marriage contract or settlement with lawyers or attorneys dealing with the business. These involve not just the individuals who might marry but also their families, or guardians or other figures who wield authority.
Sometimes a clergyman is hovering around, sometimes they might have a role in the plot more rarely are they of much importance. There are exceptions. Notably, in “Romeo and Juliet” a whole lot of trouble is caused by a friar who administers the religious sacrament of marriage without a contract between the families having been made.
The explanation for all this arises from the Christian idea that there is The City of God and The City of Earth. In this case a marriage has two forms of existence. One is that it conforms to the laws of man (Earth) and is a formal contract about property and family responsibilities.
The other is that as such a marriage is likely to result in children; that is the creation of souls, then it is a sacrament which should be blessed and recognised for the two people who will be afflicted with the burden of bringing up the children in the faith.
At least all this is theory, but in the past, as ever, practice too often was distinct from theory. If I were to trawl through all the possible variations, interesting that they may be, this would be a very long post. But when there is marriage, money and property then at some time there is also probate to consider.
The many and various situations that arose caused huge numbers of legal cases, often centred on probate but also about who owned which land or was entitled to this or that. Common to these was the absence of any reliable record of a marriage or indeed who were the children of who.
So the State intervened. In
, as the
Parish was the basic unit of local administration and as there was a state
Church, that became the place of record for marriage and the recording of
births and deaths. This caused immediate
problems for the many who were not of the Church of England and whose records
did not have legal standing, so the cases continued to pile up. England
By the 1830’s in
England and Wales, later followed by Scotland and , a new type of Civil
Registration allowed marriages of all kinds, with births and deaths to be recorded
locally, with copies held centrally.
This did tidy things up, but there were still many who did not
Again, you have to keep probate in mind in all this. Many a problem arose because wills were not made or badly drawn up and so laws were made to determine the basis for distributing inheritances.
Broadly speaking, this basic system worked for over a century although with difficulties in some areas. But what has happened is that as social habits have changing radically together with the introduction of complex state benefit schemes, marriage became just one form of partnership arrangement, albeit the majority one and limited to a male and female.
But as well as “gay” partnerships, or a male and female partnership outside marriage, that is relationships with a sexual component, there are other forms of partnership which have there own validity and have their own value to society as well as the individuals concerned.
What about the daughter/niece/son/nephew or other who are in a partnership situation for the care of the elderly or the severely handicapped? What about two (or more) people who live together for a social and not a sexual purpose?
There always have been and there are many today in that situation. Moreover, many of these are vulnerable under Probate. If a will is not there or does not make clear the informal contractual relationship there can be some losing out in a way that is unjust.
There have been too many cases where someone turns up at deathbeds with witnesses who claimed to have had agreement from people who were comatose or had severe loss of faculties, to sign away their property. The laws on probate can be easily bent for criminal purposes.
This is the area that has been forgotten in the row about “gay” marriage. It is just another partnership for a personal or social purpose. One of the jobs of government is to try to see the wider issues. There are many other types of partnership for valid purposes that are not covered by the protection offered by the status of marriage.
If marriage is not just about a man and woman coming together to make and bring up a family in the context of other family but now means the possibility of a much wider range of partnerships why are so many of these not considered?
It is typical of
government at the moment that the politicians simply give in to a small
pressure group with media sympathy instead of looking at what else might be
necessary or advisable in the much wider social context. UK
George Bernard Shaw had a lot to say about marriage, in “Pygmalion” that became the musical “My Fair Lady”, Alfred P. Doolittle, having come into money that made him middle class was obliged to marry after many years being perfectly happy with more informal arrangements.
A man before his time…………….