Thursday, 30 September 2010

Ed, faith, marriage and kids.

Ed Miliband became Leader of the Labour Party last Saturday andedmiliband almost immediately his personal life became public property, or at least that is what the media would have us believe. And so began the exploration of all things Ed including not just his political convictions but his religious beliefs and family life.

In interviews Ed has explained that he doesn’t believe in God, though he respects those who do. There is an interesting summary of Ed’s publically expressed views on faith by The Church Mouse. I think Mouse is a little more cynical in his comment than I would be in saying:
It struck Mouse that Miliband was probably attempting to follow Clegg's line that in some ways he wished he did have a faith, but unfortunately doesn't.  This is designed to make believers feel that they are respected and valued, whilst making non-believers feel that he's also on the side of reason and rationality, no matter how nice it might be to believe in these fairy stories. 
Patronising all round really.  If the truth is that he looked at it and decided it was not true, Mouse would rather he just said that.
I have plenty of friends who express their admiration, even at times envy, of people of faith while not believing themselves.

As much attention has been focused on Ed Miliband’s family life. I think this is a matter of legitimate interest because in his Leader’s speech at the Labour Party Conference Ed spoke at length about the importance and value of family and family life, both for him personally and for society. Some have commented that this commitment to family didn’t stop Ed committing a public act of political fratricide, despite all his statements about how much he loves his brother David. Others have been quick to point out that Ed is not married to his long term partner and the mother of his child. It has also come to light that Ed had not been registered as the father on his child’s birth certificate.

In an interview on Channel 4 last night, Ed explained that he was planning to get married and when his second child is born he will register as the father of his children. He seemed very relaxed, if not laid back, about all this. There was one particular phrase that left me uneasy:
"Justine and I have a very strong bond and actually we've said in the past we intended to get married," he said. "I actually think the British people are very relaxed about whether we're married or not."
It may be a surprise to discover that the reason for my unease is not primarily because of what I believe about marriage as a Christian. I have clear views on marriage as a precious gift from God, but I don’t expect someone who isn’t a Christian to share that understanding of marriage. Nor is it the case that I think any less of Ed’s commitment to his partner than many of our politicians who are married. Let’s be honest, it hasn’t stopped some of them having affairs and others are so committed to marriage that they have decided to have several. No, what concerns me is that this ‘relaxed attitude’ might reflect a general ignorance about the legal state of those who are in committed long term relationships and yet not married.

cert-marriage-england-wales My wife is a tutor and lecturer in law and she is frequently amazed and disturbed by the number of mature students who are under the clear impression that ‘common law marriage’ is legally recognised in this country; it is not. They assume that their long term partner and they enjoy the same legal rights as those who are married; they do not. The situation is clearly set out in this helpful statement: Marriage, cohabitation and civil partnerships. Once the students realise the true situation they are far from relaxed about whether they are married or not because a false assumption about their relationship has been shattered. Sadly, there are many people in our country who do not know about or understand the implications of not being married until something goes wrong and then it is often too late.

I am also uneasy about the relaxed nature of Ed Miliband’s attitude to being registered as the father of his child. Again, there are important legal implications arising from this situation. These  relate to parental responsibility and the rights of a father who is not registered as the father and not married to the child’s mother. If someone loves their child, then being relaxed about legal procedures that secure that relationship in law would seem pretty foolish.

Now Ed Miliband is an intelligent man and I would expect he is aware of the legal implications of not being married or registered as his child’s father. If he isn’t then that does not bode well for someone offering themselves as a potential Prime Minister, nor for the country they are seeking to lead. I would assume he and his partner have taken appropriate steps to mitigate the legal position. But it is not something to be relaxed about, as too many partners and parents have discovered at great personal cost.

h/t David Keen, Maggi Dawn, Bex Lewis and Martin Beckford for Twitter conversations on this topic.

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