I am bewildered by this ongoing discussion of whether and where gay people should be married. Surely the real question is whether it's right for anyone to marry anyone, anywhere.
I believe that gay people should have the same rights as heterosexuals. I also believe that I have no right to dictate to others about their way of life. But I am saddened that so many apparently decent people still subscribe to the view that marriage is in any way respectable.
You can have the good things, the love, caring and commitment, without subscribing to the institution. And you can have the necessary things, the legal and financial stuff, in a civil partnership. Nothing is added by marriage, except the expectation of possession.
The notion that one person can have rights of ownership over another is not only ethically highly questionable but also pragmatically unsound. It has been shown that many species form lifelong pair bonds, but that individuals have the occasional "fling" which does not necessarily threaten the primary relationship.
Humans, however, when their expectations are disappointed, often become vindictive and destructive, and families break apart.
Marriage was expedient, up to a point, when women were chattels. But life has moved on. Is it not time to acknowledge that outright ownership of your life's partner no longer works to support families?
I don't suggest casual sexual encounters should be encouraged, but it is undeniable that extramarital relationships happen. If you love someone, surely you must be willing occasionally to share them or let them go. And they are more likely to stay or come back if they are not subjected to personal and societal outrage.
Frampton Cotterell, Gloucestershire
I have yet to discover any difference, in practice, between civil partnership and marriage in a register office (probably the most usual sort of marriage now). Your leader (26 December) states that gay marriage would give gay couples "full equality before the law". If so, surely it would be simpler to review legislation on civil partnerships than to alter the dictionary definition of marriage.
If we do redefine the word marriage, will we also redefine words such as wife, husband, adultery and so on? Will quotes from literature have to be spelled out?
Will marriage mean any committed relationship? Presumably not or we may find ourselves "married" to our dogs and cats. I expect it means any committed sexual relationship, but what sort of sex? Was President Clinton acting as if married to Monica Lewinsky or did he really "not have sexual relations with that woman"?
Most importantly of all is equality; if we can't work towards a world in which people are different and equal, then we are in a mess.
The Rev Bernard O'Connor (letters, 28 December) suggests the word "children" prevents gay marriage from being "the same as marriage as we have always known it".
There is no such thing as "marriage as we have always known it"; its meaning has evolved. And marriage is not about creating children. If he believes otherwise, he should start asking couples to have fertility tests before he marries them.
I am an American visiting the UK, and as baffled by the Church of England's response to gay marriage as most Brits are by America's love of guns. But there is one difference. Our relationship with guns has historical and constitutional underpinnings. The Church of England owes its existence to a disagreement over the definition and sanctity of marriage. For it to act as if there is only one way to view marriage seems preposterous.
Once upon a time, tax offices were friendly
When I joined the Inland Revenue as an inspector in 1959 there were more than 600 local tax offices at which members of the public could call to resolve difficulties and receive advice: there was even Saturday-morning opening in my early days for the convenience of those who could not call in the week. And a pre-paid reply sticker was enclosed with every written communication.
I worked for a while with a senior inspector of the old school who still signed his letters "I am, sir, your obedient servant" and meant it, and almost all phone calls would be at the local rate. Files, folders and paper records were everywhere and computers unknown, and yet, on balance, from what I now read, it seems that the taxpayer was a damn sight better served. Happy days.
For anyone who worked in evasion and avoidance, as did I for many years, the current breast-beating over avoidance by the super-rich and corporate bodies evokes nothing more than a degree of cynical amusement. Powerless, because the legislation left us so, we watched it happening year after year; and year after year we watched counter-legislation fail. The answer I concluded was a simple one. It's the system, stupid – they call it capitalism, and dress it up in what passes for democracy.
To quote one of my early district inspectors: "What likelihood of a solution when our masters, the very people framing the legislation, their friends and families, or their financial supporters, or the vested interests they represent, have infinitely more to gain from preserving the status quo, which serves them all so well, rather than with framing legislation to deal effectively and finally with the excesses?"
I totally agree with concerns and irritation at the cost of calls to HMRC (letters, 20 December). But the real concern is the need to ring them in the first place. I only ever have to ring them to try to get them to correct a mistake they have made. My tax affairs are not complex, but over very many years I cannot recall the Revenue getting it right at the first attempt.
Every businessman knows that the way to save money on administration is to have a culture of getting things right first time. HMRC seems to have a culture of getting it wrong first time.
Leaving aside the inconvenience to the taxpayer, the cost of correcting the errors is considerable. If we could change the culture, most of us would not need to suffer the cost of 0845 calls.
Bring back sportsmanship
Footballers' behaviour is again in the spotlight ("A game befouled by excuses for the lack of respect", Sport, 17 December). At present there are penalties for bad behaviour, but there is no tangible motivation for players to behave well.
If at each match there was a panel of impartial and respected judges, assessing both teams for style and sportsmanship, then in the event of a draw, or equal points in a league table, these scores could be used in place of penalty shootouts, goal difference and other tiebreakers, to decide the result.
Yellow and red cards would automatically lose points – while accepting referees' decisions would gain them, as would stylish play.
Then players would know the whole time that their behaviour could win or lose them the match, or even lead to promotion or relegation. Acceptance of the judges' assessment would itself be a mark of sportsmanship.
Why do we continue to put up with this rude, bullying, aggressive knight of the realm, Sir Alex Ferguson, during almost every football match he is involved in?
He is an appalling role model for not only senior players and young school-team players, but also the watching parents, who now think it's OK to bellow at the referee at every opportunity, because Sir Alex does.
He should be ashamed of himself, and it is time the FA did something about it. How about a stadium ban for a few games – or, even better, a few years?
Gamekeepers aim to conserve
Aidan Harrison (letters, 29 December) makes some good points about hunting, but I do not agree with his opinions on game shooting.
Virtually no gamekeepers aim to wipe out predators on their estates. The aim is to control predators to reduce their impact on game birds. The control carried out by gamekeepers rarely reduces the population of foxes to "near zero", and it does not impact in any way on the conservation status of any of our native predators. Furthermore, very few gamekeepers use poison to control foxes.
Game management generally benefits wildlife. Game management is not "genocide" on wildlife. Shooting depends on good habitat, so shoots put a lot of effort into habitat management and creation.
It was heartwarming to read the interview with "Michael Parker" , or "Barrymore" (29 December). It was plain that the whole episode, right from its beginnings, stank to high heaven. It was obvious that the "evidence" against him had more holes in it than a colander. So I wish him well and hope that one day, the truth of this awful happening will out.
Ray J Howes
Hard to stomach
While we are digesting all that festive food, we should address the outrage that is the pay of chefs and waiters. Most pub and restaurant chains pay their low-paid employees not a penny more for working on Christmas Day. Nor are staff given double time on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.
Yet these eating houses have no hesitation raising their prices ninefold for patrons, under the illusion they are somehow rewarding their skivvies.
Godfrey H Holmes
Happy old year?
The media is going out of its way to say what a wonderful year 2012 has been. Two questions: Why are we in such a financial mess? And what will they be saying at the end of 2013? A case of pride comes before a fall, perhaps.
Can anyone explain why the Pope's prayers are never answered?