The time has come for the state to withdraw from the "marriage" controversy ("If you want the benefits of marriage, take the plunge", 4 February).
Same-sex couples want to have the same status as married couples. Surely the solution is to extend the civil partnership scheme to any two people who wish to enter into such an agreement. The partnership could provide certain tax advantages, allow a choice of next of kin and perhaps apply to intestacy.
Those couples who wished to "marry" could then find a body, religious or not, prepared to provide the imprimatur of "married" status. Those wishing to have only such a relationship would not then be subject to the rights and obligations of a civil partnership.
The idea that the courts should enter into the splitting up of unmarried couples is fraught with difficulties. I suspect some couples choose not to marry to avoid the interference of the courts into the financial aspects of divorce. This is likely to be the case until legally binding pre-nuptial agreements are available.
However, without a formal register, who is to decide what constitutes a "partnership"? Does this require the sharing of a bed and does what happens in it matter? Can a civil partnership be nullified for non-consummation? Let us have a simple state-supervised register.
Ashamed of UK visa snub
We have just received a message from our friend in Ghana, the chief of the village where my partner's school has a development link. His message not only thanks us for our efforts to get him a visa to visit us and take part in educational and cultural exchanges with schools and organisations in our area, but also talks of the humiliation he feels at the rejection of his visa application on the grounds that, "on the balance of probability he will not be coming to the UK as a bona fide visitor".
This is despite the partnership between our school and his community and its schools. It began with 23 students living and working in the community last year and completing seven voluntary projects to improve education and community cohesion. On a second trip a further 21 students completed more voluntary projects – all funded by the students' fund-raising efforts and the generosity of local groups.
This is also despite letters sent from the deputy head of the school, me as a justice of the peace and joint project leader, my partner as main project leader and school governor, and a letter from us as a couple outlining our financial circumstances and our commitment to host and support our guest for his three-week stay.
The chief and the village honoured my partner by granting him the status of a chief just before we left last year. We are ashamed of our country and I feel extremely sad that such opportunities for cross-cultural developments are dismissed on what appear to be spurious grounds.
Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire
Big society, small budget
To me, as someone who lives in another of the Big Society pilot areas, the London Borough of Sutton, the news that Liverpool are pulling out of the Government's plans comes as no surprise. A few days back, I visited a local charity that is about to close its doors because of massive funding cuts.
Last year both my MP, Tom Brake, and his fellow Lib Dem MP Paul Burstow, who jointly represent our borough, attended the opening of one of the Vine Project's schemes for the community. Mr Burstow noted that the Vine Project's handyman service for older people on low incomes would reduce the possibility of them having accidents in the home and ending up in a care home.
If some elderly person has an accident because a cheap local service has been cut, it will cost the state far more when that individual needs a care home.
The cuts are so deep that public services are being cut back, while the Coalition tries to promote the Big Society. And yet the charities and social enterprises that are meant to pick up the pieces are facing closure up and down the country.
My council is preparing a list of sacrificial lambs to achieve the savings demanded of it.
If they make anyone redundant in the proposed June to September cull, with the use of "voluntary" redundancies (monopolised by those with a long service history) and the generous terms available to council employees, will their wage bill for 2011 not be a lot larger than it was in 2010? Will not this overspend require a similar compensating cull next year? Presumably this will continue until we are left with the CEO and his driver. I think I'll phone him, and see if he can empty my bin on a Tuesday.
Tories should embrace AV
Tory "traditionalists" consider that any less-than-enthusiastic opposition to the Alternative Vote by David Cameron in the pending referendum would be a "betrayal of party principles" ("Tories fear 'betrayal' by Cameron over electoral reform", 2 February).
They have forgotten that if it was a Conservative-dominated coalition headed by their great leader, Winston Churchill, which insisted on a PR system being adopted by the Germans at the end of the Second World War.
Today's Tories can hardly deny in the light of Germany's present stronger financial position, superior infrastructure and manufacturing base, that this has served them better than has first-past-the-post in the UK.
Ripponden, West Yorkshire
Am I the only person looking forward to seeing the MPs who now criticise votes for prisoners knocking on the prison doors, campaigning, when election time arrives?
Could it be that political candidates engaging with real prisoners with real problems in prisons which often provide little or no serious rehabilitation might make a real difference?
Could this perhaps be the best way to explode stereotypes and do more for prison reform than all the years of hate, vengeance, prejudice and talk have achieved up until now?
Cold future of the digi-zealots
Paul Harper (letter, 3 February) expresses the hope that the development of personal communication technology will take humanity away from the simian requirement for social living and make it optional. Oh, brave new world, that has such people in it!
Re-reading Paul Harper's letter, I'm still wondering whether or not he's serious. Are "random people in the street" really so frightfully uninteresting? All of them?
Of course, I could be missing the banter, the writer's nudge-nudge implication that we're all best off far from the antediluvian Luddism of "social living". It is so dryly ironic that the joke must surely be on me. But having met digi-zealots who unblushingly propound such idiocy, I've a worrying feeling that Mr Harper means what he says.
And if so, what a cold, lifeless planet he must inhabit.
St Day, Cornwall
Aid cash pays for Papal visit
It is astonishing that nearly £2m is being diverted from crucial foreign aid funds to pay for part of the Pope's state visit to the UK last September.
For the Government to suggest that the payment recognises the contribution of the Catholic Church as a health and education provider, when the money is paying directly for the state visit – and nothing to do with the Church's role in development – is an insult.
Most people, including Christians, did not think the taxpayer should foot the Bill for what was largely an ecumenical visit, and will be outraged to learn that money has been taken out of the hands of the poor to support and promote the Holy See.
British Humanist Association
I think Tim Walker's article "And now, back to the studio" (2 February) missed one of the key qualities of studio sitcom: warmth. Miranda Hart is very funny and shouldn't be patronised. I laugh out loud at Miranda. I don't laugh out loud at Episodes, much as I would want to. Episodes is sunny, but it isn't warm.
D E Owens
Too much toast
I have one slice of toast for breakfast. Why, in these days of concern for the environment, can I not find a toaster which allows me to switch off the unwanted slot rather than wasting all that heat?
Perspectives on revolution in the Arab world
The cure could be worse
Much as I normally admire Johann Hari's forthright liberal position there comes a point where realpolitik needs to edge aside ideals ("We helped to suppress the Egyptians", 4 February).
Oil. Yes, we are addicted. But so is the rest of the world, and the developing world is fast catching up. Nuclear and green alternatives provide only partial solutions. Thus our addiction is unlikely to be broken any time soon, and though it is undeniably a finite resource at least when it runs short we will be in the same boat as the rest of the world and not suffering from a failed economy that dared not share in the oil feeding frenzy.
Israel. That there is an Arab country that supports the peace process, even if imperfectly, is better than having all concerned implacable foes. Hari mentions the motives of the 9/11 attackers and while the plight of the Palestinians was certainly one of their grievances there were others. Islamist fundamentalism needs to be tackled and isolated from the mainstream of decent Muslims, but it is a many-headed beast that will not be killed just by hacking off one head.
Strongmen rulers. Middle Eastern regimes are pretty much universally distasteful to our western palates. Regime changes haven't been universally successful. Our best hopes of instilling progressive attitudes in medieval regimes is not to boot them out but rather to work with them with carrots and sticks, as with Libya, to gradually bring them round to a different way of thinking.
Even imperfect allies like Mubarak should not be lightly cast aside on a point of principle. The cure could just be worse than the disease.
Great Amwell, Hertfordshire
Groundless fears of Muslim revenge
I find it difficult to know whether to laugh or cry at the letter from R S Foster (3 February). Full of unsubstantiated fears, he seems to believe the whole Arab world is merely awaiting the opportunity to "fall upon the West" to avenge the reconquest of Spain in the 15th Century and the repulse of the Ottomans in the 17th. The mind boggles.
Even if his suspicions had any justification (and they have not), I am at a loss as to how exactly these aims would be achieved.
He seems to think an Islamic government in Algeria would be more dangerous than one in Iran. How exactly? Is he anticipating an Algerian military invasion? Any such attempt would be defeated in five minutes, and any attempt with nuclear weapons would be no more dangerous than one from Iran. In either case, it would be suicidal, in view of the response they could expect.
I am indebted to your correspondents (3 February). Only now that R S Foster has pointed it out do I understand that it is chiefly the thwarting of their centuries-old conspiracies for World Dominion that Muslims begrudge us, rather than the killing of hundreds of thousands of their kith and kin over the past ten years. I have in deed been "naïve".
Nor do I now need to furrow my brow over some people's quaint habits of dress, since Peter Tomlinson explains that "a large number" of Muslims affect this mischievously to indicate their "anti-western and medieval outlook".
Grateful as I am for these pearls of enlightenment however, I would also be glad of information on the kidnapping and eating of Christian babies.