“Choice” is a word beloved by our not-exactly-elected masters in Westminster. Almost always, when it is trotted out it means anything but choice. It means we are forced to eat a punnet of warm turds because it’s better than the wheelbarrow of kebab-chunder that’s also on the menu. This behaviour is hardly limited to the pantomime we’re told we voted for: society often forces certain default options upon us.
It is becoming abundantly clear, though, that the Tories are determined to remove all semblance of choice from the decision to marry, and we shall all have to marry whether we like it or not. It’s hard to identify exactly where it started, as so much policy in the last year and a half has been directed towards getting people married and forcing them to stay in marriages.
There are the carrots. The government has declared that it will bring in full same-sex marriage, meaning gay monogamous couples can be as married as heterosexual monogamous couples and therefore marriage statistics will jump up. They brought in a tax break for married couples, a little deal-sweetener to put a ring on it. This tax break cost around £550-600 million: which, coincidentally is identical to the figure which was cut from Educational Maintenance Allowance. The tax cut is a clear statement of priorities: fuck the future of our young people, let’s keep people married.
Then there are the sticks. Separating couples will be forced to pay to use the Child Support Agency, a stealth “tax” on divorce. In combination with cuts to Legal Aid, leaving a marriage suddenly becomes an expense which many cannot afford.
Finally, there is this: teaching children about “the nature of marriage and its importance to family life” has been written into the curriculum for free schools and academies. Very little is compulsory in free school curricula: they have to teach the general English, maths, science and RE, but the rest is supposedly completely open for the schools to decide (which is problematic in and of itself, and there are myriad problems with free schools and academies, but that’s another issue for another day). Marriage, however, has been plopped firmly and prominently on the agenda. Not any other form of relationship, just marriage. Rather ironically, this provision is called Clause 28, a clear parallel with the last time the Tories decided to impose control on how people had relationships.
Put all of these threads together and a picture emerges: this government is obsessed with trapping people in an antediluvian social arrangement. Even before he was elected, David Cameron was farting on about “family values” and how they would somehow magically solve all of the problems in the world. These family values translate as something very simple indeed: the classic nuclear family with a breadwinner daddy and a nurturing mummy raising a generation of fresh young Tories. The cuts are hitting women disproportionately, forcing them into greater dependence on spouses. It is hard to believe that this was not by design. Marriage, as has been identified by many before me, serves to reinforce the conservative social order.
So why frenzied drive to remove any choice about how to build a family?
Perhaps it is to do with perceived scarcity: the mythical pot of money which is empty to all unless they are a friend of the Tories. Consider the perpetual bile directed at single mothers, who, if the media and politicians are to be believed, are almost wholly responsible for a financial crisis and are stealing All Of The Money to feed their crack habits. These are women who, for whatever reason, have chosen to raise their children outside of the approved model for a family and are vilified for doing it. It scares the conservative system, and so they are scapegoated.
Similar misdirected aggression is thrown at immigrants, who are apparently stealing all the jobs and all the benefits. Once again, this is nothing more than scapegoating: they are the Jews poisoning the wells, the reds under the beds. The scapegoating is down to nothing more than xenophobia. This is accompanied by hidden, dog-whistle racism from the tabloids, screaming loudly about the number of immigrants and how “British identity” is disappearing. Somehow “family values” are tied in Britishness, as though only certain people may ever breed in certain ways.
I find my lizard brain recoiling at all of this. The rampant scapegoating, the insistence on regressive family values; it reminds me of something utterly terrifying. Rising right-wing ideology has been linked to a perception of scarcity, and these are the times in which we live. Most people believe that there isn’t enough to go round. It is unclear whether the politicians likewise agree, but their social policy and rhetoric certainly seem to be rooted in the “scarcity” line. The great irony is, there is plenty for everyone if only it were distributed fairly. Instead of pursuing this, society is moulded into a shape which suits those in charge.
The policy towards marriage is all about control and removal of choice, whatever its function. It is about the tentacles of the state wrapping themselves around any relationships, choking love until it is a mere legal contract. If we are lucky, it is nothing more than a perverted Tory fascination with how people live and love. If we are not lucky, this is only the beginning.