King's Evangelical Divinity School

9 April 2010

FITE Update 3: Encouraging Marriage?

In this Faith in the Election (FITE) series of short posts I'm continuing to highlight faith issues and how they might contribute to how Christians decide to vote in the forthcoming election. Let's talk briefly about marriage, because there seems to be a clear dividing line between the parties here. David Cameron's Tories want to introduce some kind of tax break for married couples. Labour and the Lib Dems, on the other hand, are completely opposed to such a concept. This said, government minister Ed Balls, after years of opposing recognising marriage in the tax system suddenly seemed much more in favour of marriage recently. Positioning for the election (or possibly to be next leader of the Labour Party)? Or Damascene conversion? Whatever Balls' inconsistency on this issue, Labour certainly hasn't been inconsistent, with marriage firmly downplayed as an institution over the past thirteen years.

So for many people of faith Cameron's desire to recognise marriage in the tax system will be applauded. Except his own Shadow Business Secretary Ken Clarke is not convinced of the value of a marriage tax break. Indeed, wasn't it Ken Clarke who abolished the married couples tax allowance when he was Chancellor? Cameron, for his part, wobbled earlier this year concerning the costing of his proposed marriage tax break. Elsewhere, Nick Clegg doesn't have much of a track record on supporting marriage, as Archbishop Cranmer wittily points out here (Warning for LibDem readers: His Grace has little time for the third party).

So we have the luxury of an issue in which we can differentiate between the main parties/leaders on marriage. Despite Ed Ball's Damascene conversion to the benefits of marriage, Labour has downplayed marriage's societal role throughout its tenure, focusing instead on equality and also recognising alternative relationships and family units. For Nick Clegg marriage is simply a piece of paper and no more special than any other union. Meanwhile, David Cameron is quite adamant he wants to promote marriage and aspires to recognise it in the tax system, though several of his team are not convinced and the national debt means anything the Tories introduce would be modest to begin with. You decide which of these might be most conducive to those voting from a faith worldview.

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