Friday, 12 December 2014

On Partnership, Family and Marriage

(Neil’s Note: I wrote this recently as a comment on a post by D.J.Webb. That essay, and the original comment, can be found at

I apologize for my late contribution to the discussion. But I do hope it will be better late than never. I apologize that It turned into a bit of a diatribe in the writing, too!

From the first three-quarters of this essay, I got three take-home points.

(1) Relations between the sexes in Western societies today aren’t as they should be.
(2) Feminists bear a considerable share of the responsibility for this situation.
(3) State meddling is responsible for the rest of the problem.

I can agree with all three, and very strongly with (2). Though I’d add: (4) The institution of traditional marriage doesn’t meet people’s needs any more. (If, indeed, it ever did). I find myself, however, disagreeing with many of the ideas put forward in the last quarter of the essay.

In a minarchist libertarian society (which, for the purpose of this discussion, is one which includes a system of contract law, but not an active, rapacious, meddling political state) I’d expect at least three different types of personal relationship contracts to evolve.

First are what I call partnership contracts (we might call them PCs, forsooth!) The main purposes of such contracts are companionship, comfort when you’re down, and sexual pleasure; or some combination of the three. There would be no requirement for there to be exactly two parties to the contract, nor any requirement for parties to be of opposite gender. Like all sane contracts, these would include force majeure clauses. They would also include procedures for termination by mutual agreement, or in the event of default by one party. Termination arrangements, such as ownership of co-habited property, would also be included in the contract if relevant.

I envisage there would be a huge variety of such contracts. They might be for a fixed term, either long or short, or on a rolling period basis. The relationships they cover might be continuous, regular, intermittent or one-off. They might include co-habitation, or the provision by one party of accommodation for the other(s); or neither. They might include arrangements such as sex-for-money, or sex-for-travel, or sex with a particular kink. Some might allow the parties to have other relationships concurrently; others might not. I expect there would also frequently be clauses covering, for example, the use (or not) of condoms, and situations such as unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. Whatever the parties to the contract want, and mutually agree on.

At the second level is what I call a family contract (FC). This is a PC with additional purposes: the founding of a family, or the maintenance of a family, or both. Here, the conditions would be stricter. The vast majority of FCs would be between two individuals of opposite genders. Co-habitation would almost always be included, and property arrangements on termination would be very important. I envisage that an FC would normally last until the youngest child reaches a particular age, with an option at this point to extend (or convert to a PC) by mutual agreement.

Third is the traditional marriage contract (TMC); an FC with a strong religious flavour and extremely strict conditions, including “till death us do part” and (as the author says) a “gold-diggers’ charter” that enables the female party, with the support of the state, to ruin the life of the male party.

To force anyone who wants a relationship into a TMC – which is what the author seems to be suggesting by what he says about common law spouses – is, if I may use a phrase, an “un-libertarian activity.” This standpoint shows the same lack of concern for the individual as do those that want to make prostitution, or other relationships that ought to be covered by a partnership contract, unobtainable.

On the gay angle of all this, I’m sure most here will agree that gay people have historically been treated very badly by the state; Alan Turing, for example. That gay people are now able to enjoy the benefits of a kind of partnership contract (even if it is inaccurately dubbed “gay marriage”) is, I think, a good thing. It is high time that the rest of us should enjoy a similar right to have partnership contracts tailored to our own circumstances.

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