Letters: Perspectives on getting married

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Secure couples can look outward

Terence Blacker thinks that being unmarried is insecure but exciting while marriage is secure but boring (18 June). Nothing could be farther from the truth.

By his own admission, the unmarried spend their time looking inward, anxious about their relationship. For the married, however, their security enables them to look outward. While a partnership exists for the sake of the two partners, marriage exists for the sake of others.

There is a lovely prayer in the Marriage Service: "May the hospitality of their home bring refreshment and joy to all around them; may their love overflow to neighbours in need and embrace those in distress."

Stephen Collier, Greenford, Middlesex

Love, honour and no death duties

I rarely find myself in disagreement with Peter Tatchell (article, 15 June). Marriage and civil partnership are near enough the same as dammit, given the difference that marriage is traditionally the inauguration of a live-in, theoretically life-long relationship, a commitment, a horrifically expensive send-off, whereas my partner and I had happily stuck together for a quarter of a century with no help at all from the establishment, our lives overshadowed by the fear that when one of us died the survivor would be bankrupted by death duties on a mutually owned London house.

Our best friends were in the same situation, so the four of us booked a date at the town hall one morning when we all happened to have nothing better to do, each couple the other's witnesses.

The registrar had explained to us that, subject to certain conditions, we could have any kind of ceremony we liked, this sort of ceremony or that sort of ceremony. Ceremonially, she implied, the ceiling was the limit in a London borough anxious to be seen as politically correctly pinker than pink.

"I suppose," she said , "that nobody would want no ceremony at all!"

"Well, actually ..." we said.

She took it bravely, poor dear, but you could see the disappointment in her eyes. Signing on the dotted line made us civil partners. No frills. So economical – unlike the last wedding we went to: cathedral, orchids, champagne, the whole kaboosh. The bride's going-away dress was black, and within 11 months she demanded a separation. We didn't get our wedding present back.

"Civil Partnership" and "Marriage" are different words. That is all. Brought down to the nitty-gritty, they are both a legalised death-duty dodge.

Peter Forster, London N4

The law for the unmarried

John Eekelaar (letter 18 June) and Terence Blacker (Opinion on the same day) are in error with regard to civil partnership and extramarital cohabitation respectively.

Eekelaar is wrong to say that marriage and civil partnership create "identical rights and duties" as, for example, only the former may be annulled for non-consummation or dissolved for adultery. Further, any non-related same-sex pair can civilly partner in order to obtain, for example, the concomitant tax advantages, without either intending to have sex or even being homosexual.

Blacker writes that there are no "The Art of Unmarriage" guides available in the bookshops. Had he looked in the law section he would have found a few such books – and would know better than to say that cohabitants have to "survive without the support of the law". The last 40 years have seen a growing pile of law fall on their heads, and would-be couples choosing between marriage and "non-marriage" would be wise to check out the differences before they leap.

Chris Barton, Stoke-on-Trent

Cut back room, not front line

It is very easy for the Chancellor to call for 25 per cent public-sector cuts. But if this isn't to harm the least well off, I ask the Chancellor to apply his 80:20 rule to these cuts too: 80 per cent from overheads and back room, 20 per cent from front line.

My experience is that councils can deliver excellent targeted local services, and of these I argue for more, not less. But they waste colossal sums in planning, managing and checking these, and then in planning, managing and checking the planners, managers and checkers.

One council department I know spends nearly £10m a year overseeing some 10 contracts worth £50m. There are 200 head-office staff doing the work of 20. But ask these staff where the cuts should fall and they will of course say cut the contracts – not the payroll.

If the Chancellor doesn't challenge this, backroom staff will heave a sigh of relief while frontline services are reduced drastically – and his cuts will indeed hurt those most in need.

Cllr Chris Naylor, Lib Dem, Cabinet Member, Housing, 2006-10, Camden Council, London NW5

Arguing that "Osborne isn't cutting for the sake of it"(22 June), Dominic Lawson writes: "Now, why on earth would any politician actually enjoy being the recipient of the fury which such measures will arouse, right across the electorate?"

Does Mr Lawson need the principles of a first-past-the-post electoral system explaining to him? Cuts will not arouse fury "right across the electorate"; they will arouse fury among the disadvantaged, public-sector workers and residents in safe Labour constituencies.

If George Osborne really didn't care what the electorate thought, then he might have considered rises in inheritance tax, capital gains and income tax on top earners to plug the deficit.

Joe Smith, Liverpool

The shock, horror and outrage expressed on all sides at the increase of VAT from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent in the Budget is a little laboured. This will result, for example, in a retail price rise of less than £10 on a £400 washing machine, hardly noticeable to 99.9 per cent of purchasers. Greater differences than this already exist in retail prices for the same item between different outlets.

It is difficult to think of any consumer item subject to VAT that is not either imported or manufactured largely from imported materials. Experience over the past two years has shown that currency exchange rates have a far greater effect on retail prices than minor adjustments to the rate of VAT. Sterling strengthening as a result of the Budget, although adversely affecting the balance of payments, is likely to counteract the effect of the VAT increase on retail prices.

David Burton, Wellington, Telford

I am astonished that the Government hasn't increased the tax on alcohol. Drink is now very affordable for most people, and levels of drunkenness and alcohol-related illness are at an all-time high. On Tuesday you published an article by an accident and emergency doctor on a typical weekend's intake of violent drunks and alcoholics who are close to death from liver cirrhosis. It made eye-opening reading.

Increasing tax on alcohol will reduce the amount of drink-related illness and the revenue from it can contribute to the cost to the NHS of treating alcoholism, drunkenness and drink-related trauma.

There will be people who argue that the poor will get poorer if drink is dearer. This may be true of a minority, but most people on limited incomes will drink less. No one, me included, wants to pay more for our wines, beers and spirits. However, the public interest is more important.

Caroline Richmond, London N12

Andrew McLuskey (letter, 23 June) is wrong to suggest that there is anything socially democratic about the Budget. The unemployment benefit, including child benefit, for a couple with two children is £235.29 a week after the payment of 100 per cent housing and council tax benefits, and assuming no debts. That is already £4,500 a year below the Government's poverty threshold of 60 per cent median income. Prices will increase, but child benefit will not for three years.

Putting a cash limit on housing benefit will hit families who cannot find cheaper accommodation because of the shortage of affordable housing. They will have to pay some of the rent out of their poverty-level unemployment benefit. The results will be debts, unpaid rent, threats of eviction, bailiffs and damage to the education of children because of the stress and uncertainty of being without a home.

The Rev Paul Nicolson, Chairman, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, London SW1

The lack of visible Lib Dem input in the Budget proves they are just there for window dressing and Cameron is in control. It proves Cameron was right when he described Clegg as a "good joke".

Derek Metson, Brightlingsea, Essex

By using a VAT increase to pay for the raising of the tax threshold, which does not benefit those already below the tax line, the Chancellor deftly wrecks the Lib-Dems' flagship policy by putting a monstrous burden on the worst-off. Nick Clegg owes me a new pair of shoes to replace those I wore out foolishly delivering his leaflets.

Derek J Cole, St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex

Long debate on women bishops

As the MP for Keighley from 1997 to my retirement in May of this year, I argued during those 13 years for the greater inclusion of women in the decision-making arenas of Muslim life. I now find myself, to my surprise and regret, having to argue for the full inclusion of women in the Church of England, as it debates on what terms women should be allowed to be bishops.

The draft legislation that General Synod will debate in July will require further exemption of the Church of England from the requirements of the Equality Act. The Church is at the moment exempted, in that it is allowed to exclude women from being bishops. A further exemption would be needed to allow arrangements for parishes who do not want a female bishop to opt instead for a male bishop. For the Established Church to seek this further exemption is to me a cause for deep concern, sadness and disappointment.

How many more concessions will be required by the traditionalists; for how much longer must the debate continue; how many more excellent women priests will retire without any hope of becoming bishops, simply due to being of the wrong gender?

How can the Church of England as the established church, serving everyone who lives in this country, speak to those of other faiths and of none about the equal dignity of all human beings when it continues to seek exemption from the law that embodies this?

Ann Cryer, Hon. Lay Canon of Bradford Cathedral, Shipley, West Yorkshire.

Profiting from legal cannabis

A drug that has been used for 2,000 years is now legally available to treat MS sufferers ("Hope for MS sufferers as first cannabis-based drug is licensed", 22 June).

Great news for the drug companies. Unable to patent and make money out of a natural plant, cannabis, they have fiddled about producing a tincture of extracts, and found a novel way to deliver it, allowing themselves huge profits. It will cost over £300 a month per patient, which the NHS will have to pay for.

If MS sufferers were allowed to use the natural product, smoked, in a tea or even in biscuits, it would cost almost nothing and patients could self-regulate. They, surely, are the best judges of how much they need and what amount will help them cope, and relax and sleep.

Our drug laws make pharmaceutical companies no better than drug dealers.

Hope Humphreys, Creech St Michael, Somerset

Bad lawyers in asylum cases

The announcement that the well-respected legal charity Refugee and Migrant Justice is to be forced to go into administration has cast a long shadow over Refugee Week.

All those who try to help asylum seekers in legal matters will know how a case can be blighted by wrong advice and inadequate work. Many will know, as I do, survivors of imprisonment and torture who have as a consequence been wrongly returned to face danger in their countries of origin.

I am working hard at the moment to help a member of a dissident group from Cameroon who was tortured on several occasions and has a compelling medico-legal report that bears out his mistreatment. Early on, he was told by a solicitor not to appeal an asylum decision because the Home Office was still in the process of dealing with his claim. The consequence of that wrong advice is that he is now faced with removal without ever having had any chance to present his evidence before a court of law.

The actions of the new government in continuing with a new system that means law firms are only paid at the end of a case will multiply such cases of injustice. Solicitors who do not spend the requisite time to gather evidence, such as witness statements, and who give up at an early stage in the asylum process will be the ones who are rewarded. Already 29 per cent of solicitors have been identified as going down this route, making good profits for themselves out of the lives they ruin. People who are sent back to danger cannot complain.

Instead of weeding out those who discredit the profession in this way, the Government has seen fit to preside over the demise of a charity which not only gave a reliable service to the individuals who needed it, but was able where necessary to take on a campaigning role, drawing attention to problems in the asylum system.

Millions of pounds and hours of misery could be saved by the provision of good-quality legal advice to all who come to seek protection in the UK. Now the door is being opened to even more of the charlatans and it is the already overstretched low-paid or volunteer workers in charities helping asylum seekers who will have to try to pick up the pieces.

Jackie Fearnley, Goathland, North Yorkshire

High price of free schools

At this difficult time in the economic affairs of the country, the new Tory government has promised to reduce public expenditure and re-establish the country's finances. It is asking the question whether the state should actually be involved in the funding and provision of some services. It comes as a surprise, then, that its first education policy announcement is the creation of "free schools".

Of course, they are nothing of the sort. They are independent schools funded by the Government – that is, the taxpayer. According to the Department for Education, not only can parents set up a new school, but existing independent schools funded currently by the parents of the pupils at the school can also apply to become a "free school" and be funded by the Government. A fund of £50m for the set-up costs has been set aside. The daily running costs of these new private schools will be taken from the budgets of existing local community schools.

Given the dreadful financial climate we face, why is the Government supporting this growth in public subsidy to a few at the taxpayer's and local schools' expense? I have no objection to parents sending their children to private schools. I understood, however, that the tradition was that they paid for the privilege themselves. A tradition worth preserving, I would argue.

Jeff Mann, Birmingham

Hurry across the road

Your article on the trial of the countdown system which tells pedestrians how long they have to cross the road before the lights change (22 June) draws attention to concerns of pedestrian groups that countdown could become an excuse to reduce the time for pedestrians to cross.

I recognise the concerns that pedestrian groups have. Their concerns are especially valid as in London there are over 300 pedestrian crossings where the time given for pedestrians to cross the road falls short of the minimum time period, as set by the Department for Transport, that pedestrians must have to cross a road safely. If Boris Johnson gave addressing this scandalous situation a real priority perhaps pedestrian groups would have a slightly less cynical attitude towards the implementation of countdown.

Caroline Pidgeon, Leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group, City Hall, London SE1

Unwanted House

Anthony Bramley-Harker asks "Do we really need the Lords?" (letter, 22 June). The French revolutionary, Abbé Sieyès, put the case with admirable brevity: "If an upper House agrees with the lower House, it is superfluous; if it disagrees, it is obnoxious."

Dr Paul Underhill, Swindon, Wiltshire

Where's Brown?

Does Gordon Brown understand his responsibilities as an MP? Has he gone Awol? Has he been given indefinite leave to remain in Scotland on health grounds or compassionate grounds?

Ramji Abinashi, Amersham, Buckinghamshire