Thursday, June 01, 2006

Cohabitation rights

This "Q&A" item is a perfect example of the low standard of reporting at the BBC. It is written as if the proposed new "rights" would arise by magic and be of benefit to everyone. Logically, financial benefits have to be funded by someone. Logic is not the BBC's strong point. I suspect it is tested for at job interviews and that candidates exhibiting it are promptly eliminated.

This is also a perfect example of the difference between "rights" and "liberties". When someone enjoys a liberty, properly understood, it costs nothing significant to anyone else. My freedom to play my music loudly may inconvenience a neighbour, but only if it constitutes such a nuisance as to cause him real loss should the law intervene. "The freedom of your fist ends at my nose" is a traditional measure of libertarian boundaries. Applied to public smoking, for example, the test would require someone claiming to suffer from passive smoking to prove his loss. The outcome would be very different, given current science, from the "rights" to be smoke-free given by recent legislation. Rights usually cost either the money or the liberties of others (or both).

The proposed "right" of a cohabitor to "claim a share of property" for example, involves real loss to the person whose property is claimed. In awarding such "rights" the government will enable some individuals forcibly to extort the wealth of others. The comparison with marriage is illogical. Marriage is a contract. When you strip away the romantic trimmings, it is mainly to do with property. No-one going through the elaborate ceremony of marriage could fail to understand that they are exposing themselves to profound legal risks. These days, if they are so starry-eyed as not to understand, there are many embittered divorcees around to explain to them.

Letting someone live with you has no such legal connotations and none can be logically inferred.

If people want the legal consequences of marriage, let them marry. If they are not religious or don't wish to waste money, there are civil ceremonies which can be performed in as low a key as anyone could desire. If they have ideological objections to that then let them contract privately to share property, if that is their intention.

The Government has no business interfering in people's lives to reallocate wealth in ways neither intended nor desired.

BBC NEWS | UK | Q&A: Cohabitation rights

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