I rarely disagree with Sir Ian McKellen's views on gay rights, but on this occasion I must. I do not believe that gay couples should have the right to a state-recognised marriage. I believe that the state should not recognise any union except a civil partnership, which makes things easier for legal purposes such as pensions, parenthood and inheritance.
This doesn't prevent anyone from having a separate ceremony and a stonking big party to celebrate the happiest day of their lives. If a couple (or more, why restrict it to two people?) wants to get married in a church, a temple, or on the moon, that's up to them and their marriage will be recognised by other people who recognise marriages in churches, temples and on the moon. Anyone would be free to marry whoever they want, as many times as they want, consecutively or concurrently; in fact, they could marry their bicycle if that's what really turns them on. Since the marriage won't be recognised by the state, it won't matter.
So long as the laws on incest, bestiality, paedophilia and necrophilia are not broken, what do I care if you and your fellow Pastarfarians want your union blessed by the Flying Spaghetti Monster, with a big shiny certificate to prove it?
Sir Ian seeks a society which embraces "anyone who wants to get married, for their own benefit and indeed for the nation's, regardless of race, belief or gender". I agree that there should be nothing to stop anyone getting married, but let's keep the state out of it.
"Gay marriage" contains a non-sequitur. If the state wants to do something it would be better to get out of the marriage business altogether and legislate instead for civil partnerships for all regardless of gender or family relationship.
This would make a contribution to resolving the problems caused by the death of an intestate person in a "common-law marriage" and of an intestate who had shared a house with, for instance, a brother or sister. Such people might well be willing to register their relationships if it did not involve all the rigmarole of weddings.
Those who, like me, want to be married would be left free to choose a ceremony offered by a religious organisation or Humanist wedding provider without the state interfering.
Stephen P Rouse
The purely heterosexual concept of marriage is already devalued by divorce, by unhappy, arranged, dynastic or open marriages, by a bit of skirt on the side or the proverbial milkman.
But it is devalued still more by the church itself prostituting the services of its properties and clergy to non-believers or non-attenders who fancy getting wed in a traditional old English gothic setting with all the glamour, glitz and God-yness that such an occasion provides, on payment of the appropriate fee.
Vicious circle of cheap labour
Christina Patterson's analysis of work experience for jobseekers (22 February) overlooked completely the vicious circle that drives the scheme.
People are doing three weeks of work, but only being paid their benefits. This has allowed large shop chains to get their shelf-stacking done by people who are not receiving even the minimum wage. At the end of three weeks, despite doing a real job, there is apparently no full-time job for them to fill. There is, however, a vacancy for another person on benefits to do the same job, but again for below the minimum wage.
It is not denigrating to shop work to suggest that a three-week internship that consists solely of shelf-stacking is not the key to the world of full-time employment. It could be the key to the world of shelf-stacking – but that is the job now being done by an endless series of benefits claimants.
Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire
I agree with Christina Patterson that there's nothing wrong with working in a shop. But equally there's no reason why a scheme to make claimants work for their benefits should concentrate so heavily on such a low-paid sector.
There are thousands of graduates on the dole. No doubt there are some talented writers there with a new-found interest in the realities of life. The Independent could start using an endless stream of these as free columnists, one at a time, for a few weeks each. What harm would it do Christina Patterson to be competing with free writers for work?
Hull, East Yorkshire
Reporter who defied despots
On Tuesday, I was already becoming convinced that the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria would eventually fall, though in the short term it may succeed in crushing the so-called "armed gangs".
The images coming out of Homs and other cities are simply too appalling, and the brutality shown to the country's own people too shocking for any long-term credibility. Thanks to modern reporting – and the mobile phone camera – secrecy is increasingly impossible to maintain.
On Wednesday, the dreadful news of the death of the reporter Marie Colvin and the photographer Remi Ochlik underlined those thoughts. Only the previous night she filled our television screens with her brave and vivid reporting; now she is no more. I refuse to believe she died in vain, and I am sure that her reporting will ultimately play its part in bringing down the despot.
Given the (largely self-inflicted) mauling of the press recently, it is with deep gratitude that we are reminded of our debt to real reporters dealing with real issues, and of the absolute necessity of a free press.
East Molesey, Surrey
What is all this humanitarian concern over the shelling of Syrian cities about? I was always brought up to believe that if civilians were killed by wholesale bombing they were to be thought of as "collateral damage".
When the PCC intervenes
Yasmin Alibhai Brown (20 February) is not correct to state: "When the Press Complaints Commission was set up in 1991, third parties could no longer complain."
In common with content regulators from other sectors, the PCC will generally not consider accuracy and privacy complaints that relate directly to a named individual, without the involvement of that person. Obviously it would be impossible (and discourteous) to assess whether someone has been inaccurately described, or had their privacy intruded upon, without that person's co-operation.
However, the PCC considers all complaints from any reader about general points of fact of the types Yasmin cites. In addition, if a third party has raised an apparently significant issue, the PCC will use this as a trigger to contact the subject of the story to see whether he or she might wish to complain. The PCC regularly contacts people of its own volition, if they appear to require assistance.
Yasmin will be pleased to learn of the work which has been undertaken by Lord Hunt, the Chairman of the PCC, supported by the newspaper industry, to construct proposals for a more effective system of independent self-regulation. Some major failings in ethics and practice have to be addressed, which may require financial sanctions. It is very clear from the evidence given to the Leveson inquiry that that some people have suffered terrible experiences at the hands of the press and that there is a need for a new robust regulator and a new effective model of independent self-regulation for the newspaper and magazine industry.
Director of Communications Press Complaints Commission London EC1
Fight disability hate crimes
While shocking, the findings of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign report are sadly not surprising ("Young disabled stay silent over hate crime", 22 February).
It is extremely worrying that disabled people don't always have confidence in the willingness and ability of relevant authorities to take seriously disability-motivated hate crime. Disabled people need to feel confident that if they report these incidents something will be done and they will be taken seriously.
I am chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Young Disabled People, and as part of an ongoing inquiry, will be holding an evidence session on disability hate crime later this year. I encourage disabled people to submit evidence and hope that by building trust between young disabled people and the police, incidents like these can become a thing of the past.
Paul Maynard MP (Blackpool and North Cleveleys, C)
House of Commons
Our duties to dolphins
Dr Shand's perspective on the responsibilities of dolphins (letter, 23 February) treats them as humans living in Western democracies.
They are beings as sentient and possibly as intelligent as we are, with their own societal rules, and it follows that we have a duty to treat them as such – rather as we ought to treat a newly discovered human tribe. That means leaving them alone, not degrading their habitat, not killing them, not imprisoning them, and not interfering with their sonar by emissions from our ships. All rights are the obverse of someone's duties – in this case ours, not theirs.
I regret to inform Susie Rushton (Notebook, 21 February) that Frenchmen really do say "Ooh la-la". For the telephone engineer who assessed our junction box at our holiday home in Perigord, it was the accompaniment to the sucking in of breath that indicates a poor repair by the last person on the job. It is the Gallic equivalent of the British workman's "Dear, oh dear, oh dear", and used just as widely.
My husband was not declared legally dead by the High Court in 1999 (Dominic Lawson, 20 February). Probate was granted on 11 August 1999, and is not an official confirmation of death for all purposes; nor does it operate as if it were a death certificate. The grant is valid for probate purposes only and is a technical requirement for the administration of the subject's estate.
Countess of Lucan
Spirit of Pétain
John Lichfield reports that Sarkozy, is falling back on appeals to "family", "discipline" and "work" in his campaign for re-election. Since these reflect the Vichy slogan "Travaille, Famille, Patrie", his opponents should have a splendid opportunity of attacking his surrender to German domination.
The Royal Bank of Scotland is giving bonuses of £785m after losses of £2bn. Let's hope that it doesn't go bust or we'll never be able to afford the bonuses