First, a welcome to the new peers announced yesterday. Odd that the LibDems should be appointing any, given their stance that all peers should be elected. And good luck to the new ones in finding a desk and a computer, room to sit down on the red benches, securing a place on a committee and getting their voices heard in the melee that question time sometimes turns into, now that there are so many peers who wish to participate.
My amendment to the Care Bill, (see my previous blog, Sisters sisters) which was intended primarily to give elderly siblings, who have lived together for years, the same inheritance tax deferral as married couples, got a frosty reception. Baroness Northover put forward the government position that there is quite enough law supporting them already, and that most of those who fall into the inheritance tax bracket are “wealthy” and therefore deserve no additional sympathy. However, another objection has been voiced repeatedly whenever I have tried, as I have done on several occasions, to draw attention to the inferior treatment of unmarried family members. The argument against helping them goes like this: to give family members rights similar to those about to be enjoyed by same sex couples entering marriage, or which are already available to same sex couples who have entered a civil partnership, is to denigrate same sex couples. Why? Because, they say, it denies the sexual element of same sex couples and puts them on a par with family members who are obviously not in a sexual relationship. There is quite a bit of academic writing about this. It alleges that most people are unable or unwilling to think about same sex couples as sexual partners in the way that we automatically regard heterosexual couples. Hence the failure of the Marriage Act to make provision for adultery and consummation in same sex marriages in the same way as for heterosexual marriage. Thus to talk about sisters in the same breath as same sex couples is to pretend that the latter are asexual.
This is not my perspective at all. What I am arguing is that it is unfair to give a tax break to all couples in a sexual relationship that is not available to those who are not, and who cannot marry because they are related. I have no difficulty in placing all civil partners and married couples in one category, but then ask why should those who are not in that category, yet who live together and will face the same grave housing difficulties when inheritance tax bites, not have the same tax treatment? I have always felt that in matters of inheritance and support, family members’ claims are at least as important, if not more so, than those of couples. Academic arguments should not stand in the way when there is a question of fairness and discrimination, a wrong to be righted.