Labour minister admits taxes should recognise marriage
Mr Burnham’s words follow Gordon Brown’s seizing of Conservative proposals for cutting inheritance tax, penalising non-domiciled workers and introducing a flight levy. Aping this area of Conservative policy, after a decade of undermining the institution of marriage, really does show how hypocritical, shallow, bankrupt, and devoid of originality this Government has become.
Cranmer is, however, intrigued by Mr Burnham’s use of language. He says unequivocally that there is a ‘moral case’ for using tax to promote the traditional family unit. And further: ‘I don't seek to preach to anybody. But in an abstract way I think it’s better when children are in a home where their parents are married and I think children do notice if their parents are married or not.’
There is nothing wrong with preaching when what you’re preaching is true, noble, good and righteous. And there is nothing ‘abstract’ about the ideal environment in which to raise children. If it were abstract, it would simply be theoretical, intangible, somehow removed from reality. But the empirical evidence indicates overwhelmingly that marriage is not only of considerable benefit to those who are married, but also to children and society, and these benefits are manifest in practice.
The minister uses ‘abstract’ to deflect the focus, to mitigate the implication of his belief, and he denies preaching in order to permit his preaching; to advocate precisely the sort of command ethics one might expect from a politician of religious conviction.
But Mr Burnham’s preaching is completely at variance with that of the Prime Minister, who said only a fortnight ago: ‘I say to the children of two parent families, one parent families, foster parent families; to the widow bringing up children: I stand for a Britain that supports as first class citizens not just some children and some families but supports all children and all families… We all remember that biblical saying: “suffer the little children to come unto me”. No Bible I have ever read says: “bring just some of the children”.’
Mr Burnham is indeed advocating a tax system which benefits just some of the children. He says: ‘I think marriage is best for kids… It's not wrong that the tax system should recognise commitment and marriage.’ And Cranmer’s favourite line: ‘There's sometimes a metropolitan myth that Labour people are all a bit liberal. I don't think the Tories should have a monopoly on this kind of thinking.’
It is completely true that the Conservative Party should not have a monopoly on this kind of thinking, for it should be evident to politicians of all political persuasions and faiths that marriage is not an exclusively Judaeo-Christian institution; it is a union observed in all cultures, and seems, according to Aristotle, to exist by nature. Marriage in the Bible is essential for the functioning of society, and is the model used to explain the mystery of Christ’s relationship to the church (Eph 5:25-32). The Church of England ‘affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman’. This has its basis in the Old Testament, where YHWH says: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’ (Gen 2:18). It continues: ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh’ (v24). Although these verses do not purport to define marriage, they do describe its origin, and are therefore crucial for understanding the Bible’s teaching on marriage.
There are three principal purposes for marriage arising out of v24: (i) the procreation of children; (ii) companionship, and (iii) sexual union. Marriage is a covenant before YHWH, which Jesus confirms with the phrase ‘God has joined together’ (Mt 19:26); when a person ‘leaves’ and ‘cleaves’. It is the erosion of this foundation which has contributed to ‘Breakdown Britain’, and it is a cause of encouragement to Cranmer that some in the Government are making noises of repentance.