Magazine article The Spectator

Marriage a la MoD

Magazine article The Spectator

Marriage a la MoD

Article excerpt

The wisdom of sending British troops to Sierra Leone was always questionable, but for Anna Homsi the military adventure has left her particularly aggrieved. Her partner, Brad Tinnion, an SAS trooper, was killed in action, leaving her to bring up their daughter, Georgia, alone. It will not be easy: because the couple were not married, Homsi does not qualify for a widow's pension. After some pleading, the Ministry of Defence has agreed to pay Georgia 2,000 a year, but only until she is 17.

The case has caused considerable outrage. Society has moved on, it is said, from the days when unmarried couples were castigated for `living in sin' and their children condemned as bastards; why can't the Ministry of Defence recognise this social change and award the same rights to partners as they would to married couples? Never slow to sense the direction in which public sympathy is leaning, Tony Blair has promised to review the law, adding for good measure that Trooper Tinnion was `an extraordinarily brave young man'.

Miss Homsi deserves sympathy. Should she find herself short of money, she will of course be eligible to state benefits. To treat her in the same fashion as a teenager who becomes pregnant deliberately in order to secure herself a council flat is harsh. But it would be wrong if her case, as many would clearly like it to be, were to be used to undermine further the institution of marriage. It is not simply a pension for Miss Homsi which her lawyer, Tom Reah, says he wishes to achieve, but an end to `discrimination on the grounds of marital status'.

The implication of that statement is that there is an underclass - the great unmarried - who are being deprived of their rights while married folk are treated as an elite. The word discrimination is used as if people have no choice over their married status, when of course they do. At any point during their ten years together, Brad Tinnion and Anna Homsi could have taken a taxi to the nearest registry office and made their vows. It would have taken ten minutes and the certificate would have cost just L3.50. Miss Homsi has not said why they did not do so. It may have been because they were not sure how committed they were to each other; it may have been because they simply hadn't got round to it. Or it may have been because, like many other couples in the same position, they realised that there were some financial benefits to remaining unmarried.

While anti-marriage campaigners are eager to point out the circumstances in which unmarried couples lose out, they tend conveniently to overlook the ways in which couples benefit by not marrying. …

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