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David Thomas: Gay marriage plays havoc with titles

What, exactly, would be the correct title and status of the wife of a lesbian baroness?

The Coalition's plans for gay marriage provide a once-in-a-parliamentary-lifetime opportunity to remedy a situation that penalises a long-suppressed minority and fosters unacceptable gender inequality. I refer, of course, to the grossly unfair status of husbands of titled wives.

You see, the joining-together of two men or two women in matrimony leads to a number of tricky issues of law and etiquette. One of these relates to the partners of peers and knights. What, exactly, would be the correct status of the wife of a lesbian baroness? If Sir Elton John and Mr David Furnish were to marry, what would that make David?

At the moment, only women acquire their husband's status through marriage. If Miss Josephine Bloggs marries a king, she becomes Queen Josephine. If her husband becomes a knight, then she becomes a lady. But if Mr Joe Bloggs is joined in matrimony to a titled female, or his wife acquires an honour, he's still plain old Joe.

Thus men are clearly discriminated against in the most outrageous way: one that would never be tolerated if the situation were reversed. And women are grossly insulted, because the reason they can receive status through marriage but cannot pass it on is that wives are still essentially regarded as their spouses' chattels. The complications involved when both partners are the same sex are, therefore, quite boggling.

One obvious, egalitarian move would be to prevent titles being taken on by any spouses at all. There are, however, obvious drawbacks with this proposal. Most women would think that the whole point of marrying a prince is that one becomes a princess. And many, many wives of egomaniacal, careerist workaholics stay with their otherwise repellent husbands only because they might become a lady one day.

Far better, then, to approach the problem from the other direction and give male spouses titles too. This is a matter of particular piquancy to me because my own father is a victim of this titular discrimination.

My mum used to be a relatively normal suburban housewife. Then she discovered the Liberal Party. After years of doughty service, fighting one losing election after another, the party did what the voters never would and sent her off to Parliament as a working life peer. She became Baroness Thomas. My sisters and I are thus, bizarrely, Hons. My dad, however, is the only commoner in the entire family and frankly it has become embarrassing to watch the poor old boy doffing his cap as we go by and calling my mother "Ma'am".

It's time to end this outrage for once and for all. So it's good to think that gay marriage might not only bring equality to gay men and women, but also do just a little bit to help those long-suffering husbands of absurdly posh or overachieving wives.