Boxing Clever

I wasn’t planning on any Christmas blogging. There are better things to do, like drink sloe gin, eat vast amounts of all sorts of things, and play with the childrens’ new toys. But then my Xmas was intruded upon when a family law related “news” item wafted into my dreams when the radio alarm went off at 6. I pretended I hadn’t heard it and went to make a turkey curry, but the one time I go to check my phone I see Adam Wagner has flagged it for me via twitter (damn you Adam ;-)).

So darn you Coleridge J with your festive gay marriage bah humbugs. It’s because of you I’m christmas blogging. Thankfully my children have lapsed into an early sugar induced coma so I have not had to cut short my playtime, but I have been ignoring my spouse in preference for my laptop screen just like an ordinary night, when really I should be cajoling him into playing monopoly or scrabble against his will (he escaped from the post it note game this afternoon by volunteering to wash up).

I’ll keep it short, Johnny Depp is on the telly. To summarise, what Coleridge said I’ll quote from the BBC report:

Sir Paul told the Times newspaper: “So much energy and time has been put into this debate for 0.1% of the population, when we have a crisis of family breakdown.

“While it is gratifying that marriage in any context is centre stage… but it [gay marriage] is a minority issue.

“We need… a more focused position by the government on the importance of marriage.”

If you’re running an argument that family and wider society is breaking down because people don’t know how to make long term commitments to one another any more, and if you think that the celebration and encouragement of an institution that allows couples to make a public, legally binding and lifelong commitment to one another is a good thing, it doesn’t make any sense to limit your efforts to promote membership of that institution to certain parts of society only.

And if your view is really that equal marriage is a minority sideshow that doesn’t matter why engineer a situation where it becomes front page news on Boxing Day again? When I first heard Coleridge speak about the Marriage Foundation the message on gay marriage was “we’re not going there” (see here where the FAQ still says “We have nothing we want to say in the current debate”). Now the plan seems to be to slipstream on the gay marriage press coverage whilst still not coming out with a position on it. Or perhaps alternatively its less of a plan and more a case of one too many sloe gins before bumping into a journalist on the tube. Who knows. The result is much the same.

It is notable that, as far as one can tell from what is quoted online (I am without the benefit of a Times subscription), Coleridge still doesn’t directly come out (excuse pun) for or against equal marriage per se, rather he chooses to brush it aside without, I infer, a soupcon of insight into how such a dismissive attitude to a fundamental civil / human rights issue is likely to come across or play out in the media. The quote above suggests a failure to appreciate why this is absolutely an important issue, and this is pretty concerning for a member of the judiciary (especially one who has recently promised to keep a lower profile, not sure how broadsheet coverage on Boxing Day fits with that but hey). Even assuming the 0.1% figure is correct rather than straight out of Coleridge’s christmas cracker, surely we don’t measure the “importance” of civil rights issues by the number of individuals affected? Marriage currently affects a minority of people, an ever decreasing circle of people form active members of the C of E in this country, and no doubt approximately 0.1% of people have ever heard of the Marriage Foundation – but you don’t see me arguing they’re irrelevant. Wrong, annoying, regularly offensive to my world views, not my cup of tea etc etc. But not irrelevant. Much. Anyway, last time I looked the majority of people in this country (including the judiciary) still thought that so called “minority issues” like discrimination were still important. And, without wishing to be a pedant, the majority of people don’t need a public debate leading to primary legislation in order to embrace the wisdom of the Marriage Foundation, because we’re already allowed to get married if we want to. So – duh yeah, it’s a minority issue!

The Foundation’s entry into public debate on this STILL without in fact stating it’s substantive position on gay marriage rather begs the question : why are the Marriage Foundation adopting an “if you can’t say nothing nice don’t say nothing at all” approach? Why won’t Coleridge come out in support of marriage per se? It doesn’t detract from his argument unless his argument has an undeclared (religious?) basis. It’s a legitimate question now the “We have nothing we want to say” line has fallen away. The risk is that this confused approach may create an impression that there are some things that individuals at the MF might be itching to say but which are impolitic.

The irritating thing is that Coleridge is right when he says its great that marriage is centre stage, but he doesn’t even see why he’s right. The equal marriage debate has the potential to remind all of us, both gay and straight, of the unique character of marriage, namely the simultaneously public and private, lifelong commitment to a partner. My husband and I may not make it till death us do part (I bloody well intend to but I do read the divorce statistics so I’m not complacent), and I’m no god-botherer* either, but my marriage oaths were and are important to me. They are on the shelf in the dining room and I read them from time to time (and occasionally refer to their terms in the course of marital arguments). If marriage is the key to durable committed relationships, we should encourage couples of all persuasions to make this commitment, to make it after thoughtful consideration, and to do their best to make it work. That’s what the Marriage Foundation says its all about and in that I have no beef with it, although I understand that marriage is not for everyone and there are other valid ways to make a solemn personal commitment apart from marriage (you can read my earlier blog about the MF here).

It’s a shame and a missed opportunity that the Marriage Foundation’s Christmas message sounds like “marriage is for people like us” rather than “marriage can be for everyone”. It’s just like the women bishops thing. Pushing people away from the very institution you are trying to save, pushing away the people you would convert.   Institutions, be they churches, clubs or marriage, need new members to survive. Those that survive change over time, evolving with each generation – sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes in great painful lurches.

Presumably Coleridge would accept that the impact of family and social breakdown on the children of gay parents and upon gay children is just as great as for the children raised in heterosexual families. Where is the plea on their behalf from the MF? Or are they just a minority too?

We should be working towards a common aim of making a stronger society by supporting strength within families, whatever those families look like.

PS I lied. Not short at all.

*my husband and erstwhile proof reader says “god botherer might be offensive to some” but I’m afraid I’m duty bound by virtue of my marital vows to disobey all his husbandly guidance as its all part of his evil patriarchal agenda, so it’s going in as a lighthearted poke (and no more) and a piece of militant spousal ephemera.

[Update. Dang. Forgot to weave in pointless barbed comment about the reported use of the term "same sex people" by Coleridge. I think most of us can stand together under than most inclusive linguistic umbrella.]

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17 thoughts on “Boxing Clever

  1. Sarah phillimore

    Amen. He simply cannot remain a Judge whilst maintaining this profile.

  2. Re god-botherer and joking: that’s what every workplace utterer of sexual harassment says!

    I would agree with you more easily if there was not already an institution which allowed same-sex couples to make a “public, legally binding and lifelong commitment to one another” – as of course there is. But the truth is that I can’t get excited about the issue with the quad locks which are promised, except for this. I don’t want any more Ladele cases. Civil registrars now in post who cannot in good conscience marry a same-sex couple should not be asked to. It’s not the job they took. A bit of organisation is all that it needs; they would take more of the opposite-sex jobbies and none of the same-sexers.

    And if once in a blue moon that meant that there were no Saturday slots available to a same-sex couple, too bad. If I were getting married I would not be comfortable with the thought that the celebrant disapproved of us and everything we stood for, however polite and professional s/he was.

    It will also be appropriate to provide that in wills made before the law changes – whenever the maker dies – “marriage” means opposite-sex marriage. That was done in 1969 when the law was changed to provide that references to “children” and “issue” were in future to include what we still called “illegitimate children”; and quite right, otherwise it would have changed the wills which people had already made.

    Back to my first para because I can’t resist telling this naughty story. On the last working day before the Season of Humbug I bought a fine box of choccies for my wife, and because I spent a certain amount the equally fine chocolateers threw in a bag of chocolate peanuts.

    I sent an email round my team inviting everyone to have one or two, when they’re gone they’re gone. And the first to drift over was my managee, a charming lady, a very good worker (not a lawyer) and (to state a relevant fact) an exceedingly attractive woman.

    “My lucky day, Andrew!”

    “How’s that?”

    “My chance at last to nibble your nuts” – with a big lascivious grin.

    “Fine” said I, “but you’ll have to lick the chocolate off them first”.

    Laughter and all round, from her included. And that, Pinktape and all my readers, is an example of how banter with a sexual edge can falls short of being harassment!

  3. coleridge gotta go. can’t keep his gob shut.
    important job skill (that’s ‘key competency’ for those of you who work in the public sector).

  4. To those saying Paul Coleridge cannot be a judge simply for expressing an opinion: RUBBISH.

    Lucy, Coleridge’s point is that the Government is expending huge amounts of time, political capital and public money on an issue that is only important to 0.1% of the population at large. He thinks that this investment should be made in and on behalf of the majority of the population at large and frankly he is right.

    If such an investment were to be made then perhaps the Family Court would not be the unmitigated disaster area that they are in terms of facilities and funding and sheer demand. If such an investment were to be made the JAC would never have had the barefaced bloody cheek to replace the appalling Wall LJ with the appalling Mundy LJ, both of whom have brought the office of judge into hopeless disrepute.

    If such an investment were to be made there wouldn’t have been 166,900 children and families subjected to entirely unjustified allegations by social workers, for which needless to say no-one responsible has been reprimanded let alone disciplined. There wouldn’t be MPs of every party reporting that their constituents have fled overseas to get away from social workers making baseless allegations against them. There wouldn’t equally have been 42,900 children needing protection plans in the year 2011-2012.

    It seems to me that you Coleridge an apology.

    • Gladiatrix,

      You won’t get any argument from me to the proposition that there needs to be more investment in the family court and family support more broadly, and that the more “mainstream” family breakdown issues could do with more focus – but I think you set up a false dichotomy.

      I don’t think that there is any suggestion that there will be a pumping of public funds into gay marriage or gay couple families as a result of the public debate about gay marriage, although there is clearly and investment of political energy as you suggest – so in that sense I don’t think this debate is taking funds away from family justice system, which frankly the government wouldn’t spend money on if it had funds burning a hole in the public pocket. And sadly I don’t think that even a quite gargantuan investment of funds would address the problems you identify / perceive in your fourth paragraph.

      I think you and Coleridge are essentially making a sort of Bentham style “greater good” argument, but that way lies a broader disregard for the needs of the voiceless, the vulnerable and the minority groups. I think the crucial thing is not whether gay marriage is likely to directly effect a large number of people (quite possibly it won’t, as gay couples are in the minority and many won’t want to marry even if they could) – the point is rather that a good deal more than 0.1% of the population think that the people should be able to lead their lives according to their own beliefs and principles, and in a way which gives them fulfillment and happiness – providing it does not do harm to others. That is to say that the issue of gay marriage is IMPORTANT to far more than 0.1% (me for example). Many specific minority issues do not directly effect you, or I or whoever – but they matter greatly because we all benefit from being part of a tolerant an inclusive society that does not live by untempered mob rule. I have two sons who statistics tell me will probably be heterosexual, but if they aren’t I’d still like them to be able to follow their parents into marriage and a stable enduring family relationship. It matters.

      I don’t think that I owe a self made public figure an apology for disagreeing with the remarks he has chosen to publicly make. I think it is tolerably clear from my post that in fact I don’t disagree with the notion that we shouldn’t be taking up so much time and energy on gay marriage – it should be quite straightforward really but for handwringing from the religious lobby. I agree with Coleridge that it would be far better if we were able to focus on other things – but I don’t think that Government should drop public debate or pursuit of reform around minority issues simply because they are unpopular or there are other issues of equal importance. Whatever else I may think about this Government I cannot fault them for pursuing this issue on a point of principle, even though it may cause them real difficulties. Time will tell if they see it through to the end. But public debate and reform should not be shaped by who can shout the loudest.

  5. Lucy: I spent half an hour constucting a reply to this blog..then when i clicked send it came up as “error..cheating huh!” I don’t like wasting my time and my immediate reaction (as i was totally polite)..was ‘can’t be doing this..unsubscribe. However I enjoy reading your blog..as long as i can reply. I can’t believe you have either ‘husband’ or ‘PA’ as spam words to junk it..so why did this happen? If you are so delicate that you can’t go there to discuss PA..I had better leave…please let me know!?
    Oh: BTW: Happy New Year!

    • Hello Anthony,
      Goodness only what set off the trip wire – I don’t have any specific key words set up, certainly not parental alienation. But even I can’t get the word F*ck through when I’m responding to comments (believe me I’ve tried). I think some swear words and words that sound er… saucy are automatically blocked. Or possibly it mistook you for a spambot or something. At any rate I haven’t seen your original comment in spam to be able to retrieve it – but your second one has got through (and now a third I see). Very odd. It does sometimes happen though – don’t take it personally! :-) Happy New Year.
      PS Suggest if you want to try again with the original post you do it in word and then paste in.
      PPS On second thoughts if you took an hour doing your reply perhaps it has hit some max word limit OR possibly I might have set a max of 10 links in any one comment (to avoid spam) – but again they usually appear in spam so I can retreive any that have been caught by mistake… Try reducing length / number of links?

  6. No..having read Matt’s rant on The Pink Stink..you are certainly not too delicate! What happened to my post then?

  7. Let’s assume Paul Coleridge is simply and sincerely interested in promoting the stability of procreative, biological families -because he thinks that’s the best way of bringing up children. He wouldn’t want to get involved in the issue of same sex families -because they are always going to be at best a very small part of how children are raised. He reasonably might want to comment that the interest shown in the issue of same sex marriage is entirely out of proportion with the interest shown in supporting biological family stability. (The irony in this sort of comment generating increased traffic about his lack of interest in same sex marriage is striking.)

    He’s damned whatever he does. If he started supporting same sex marriage explicitly, he’d wreck his support for biological families because commentators like me would be all over him arguing that such support undermined the biological family. (You might think our arguments would be wrong, but it’s a fact that opponents of same sex marriage would all over him on this.) If he opposed same sex marriage explicitly, well, you can imagine what that would produce.

    Personally, I think both sides on this should leave him alone to campaign for increased stability in marriage for the sake of children. There ought to be support for this central issue regardless of other differences, and trying to push him one way or the other on same sex marriage is not helpful. You might think that this leaves his support for family stability incomplete. So be it. Better an incomplete campaign than none at all.

    • Well Lazarus if he wanted to be left alone on the topic it would have been more sensible to have steered entirely clear of it as the MF indicated it would at the outset?

  8. @ familoo

    Wiser? Perhaps. (Although pointing out the lack of relative attention paid to the central case of marriage is hardly jumping into the issue.) In any case, we have a moral choice on how to respond to his remarks: to use them as a platform for our own campaigns on the relatively separate issue of same sex marriage, or to follow his (good) advice and indeed to focus on stability in biological, procreative relationships.

    • Lazarus, modern day heterosexual marriage is no more defined by its supposed procreative function than it is by the specifics of the sexual act. Childless marriages are marriages nonetheless whether childless by choice, infertility or bereavement.

  9. and of course he has a full-time job. he’s a judge. if he wants to do stuff incompatible with that (and cynics might suggest that helping the stability of the family couldn’t be any less compatible with being a judge in the family division…) he needs to stop taking the pay and the privileges as well as the necessary restraints and go and do whatever other thing he considers so crucial. i’m not belittling (or for that matter praising) what he is trying to do, but if it isn’t compatible with his day job then something has to give.

  10. Lazarus..we have a way of quickly notifying agreement on our forum (FNF)by saying +1A..so i say i entirely agree with you…a very sensible post.
    Sorry Lucy but can’t agree your response. Whatever the gay lobby and the media like to promote..gays are a tiny tiny minority in this country thank God..and there is not nearly enough attention in the media on the real and far more important social Qn in society: That of the breakdown of the biological heterosexual family and the damage being done to children which are the next generation of adults. If we could get the media to concentrate their guns on that, instead of their feeding frenzy on gay marriage plus women bishops…both of which by comparison are frankly an irrelevance..my goodness, we really would be making progress. Their interest in the two are about in reverse proportion to the numbers. So I say: Well done to Coleridge..be brave and keep at it..and don’t be put off by sniping from any pink quarter!
    BTW Lucy: Good advice..put in Word and save..then copy & paste…thanks & Happy New Year to you and all on this blog!

    • Anthony,
      I suspect that the homosexual community is rather larger than the tiny tiny minority you would prefer to exist. I have allowed your comment, after some thought, but I think it is possible to engage in discussion about this topic without verbally expressing a preference for them not to exist at all (tiny tiny minority…thank god). Indeed most of your comment is unobjectionable, although I don’t agree with it. You are entitled to your view, but not necessarily to express it here. I may edit or reject future comments expressing similar sentiments.
      Lucy

  11. For info: Now this IS important! I wanted to alert you to a forthcoming programme scheduled for Channel 4 on Monday 14Jan13 which focuses on:

    How do parents share the bringing up of their children after they separate? Dispatches investigates the emotive subject of parental access and rights in Sharing Mum and Dad presented by Tim Lovejoy on Channel 4, 14th January 2013 at 8pm.

    “Today, one in three children in the UK grow up in a home with only one parent. But are we doing what’s best for the children of separated parents?

    Dispatches follows presenter Tim Lovejoy, a divorced father of two, as he investigates the current situation surrounding shared parenting following divorce or separation.

    Tim speaks to a wide range of voices and explores the psychological effects of parental separation on children, hearing from teenagers about their personal experiences.

    The programme investigates the roles of mums and dads in 2013, asking whether current legislation in this area is up-to-date with the way in which modern families operate, and exploring different ways of sharing parenting post-separation.

    Tim uses social media to generate debate, much of it incorporated into the film. And, in a first for Dispatches, Channel 4 is showing behind-the-scenes clips of the production process online, to help inform the debate.”

    For more information see http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/articles/sharing-mum-and-dad-send-your-stories. It is also possible to contribute to this programme via this website.

    Although this TV programme should help raise awareness of the importance of co-parenting for children caught up in the conflict of parental and family breakdown, particularly with the Children and Families Bill being introduced to Parliament in January 2013 (see http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed97685 & http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmjust/739/739.pdf) the hope is that it may also help to share constructive terminology in terms of focusing on co-operative parenting and NOT parental access as well as on children caught up in this conflict having the right to a loving, nurturing and fulfilling relationship with both of their parents and extended families.

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