Essential reading

by Chris Bertram on January 24, 2010

When I read the _Financial Times_ review of Joris Luyendijk’s _People Like Us: Misrepresenting the Middle East_ last year, I knew it was a book I wanted and needed to read (Australian title is _Fit to Print_). So I placed an order on amazon.uk that very morning. But it never came and I only just got my hands on a second-hand copy. Amazon (US and UK) are both listing it as out-of-print. Which is a pity, because you need to read it too. Some of it will be familiar to intelligent and well-informed people: of course we _know_ things work like that. But it is hard to keep the knowledge one has of the news process in view, when watching TV, reading the papers, listening to the radio over breakfast. Luyendijk will, at the very least, do the necessary job of keeping us sensitized.
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Civil unions and straight marriage

by Henry on January 24, 2010

Arthur Goldhammer’s “excellent blog on French politics and society”:http://artgoldhammer.blogspot.com/2010/01/pacs-is-between-one-man-and-one-woman.html points to “this article”:http://www.insee.fr/fr/themes/document.asp?ref_id=ip1276#inter2 on the French _pact civil de solidarité_ – a kind of civil union introduced in 1999/2000, largely as an alternative to gay marriage. But the pacs has had very interesting consequences for straight couples (95% of couples with pacs are straight), as this chart shows.

The growth of the pacs’ popularity over its first decade is striking. There are now two pacs for every three marriages. Interestingly, this is because of both a significant decline in marriage, and a significant increase in the overall number of people willing to engage in some kind of state-sanctioned relationship. While you would obviously need more finely grained data to establish this properly, the obviously intuitive interpretation of this (at least to me) is that the pacs have grown _both_ by providing an option for people who would probably not have gotten married in the first place, _and_ attracted a number of people who otherwise would have gotten married, but who prefer the pacs’ lower level of formality (it is much easier to cancel a pacs relationship than to get divorced). Perhaps this provides grist for the mills of social conservatives (who could claim, stretching the data a bit, that gay-appeasing civil unions are undermining the sacred institution of marriage) – but it would oblige them to face up to the question of whether they should _prefer_ gay marriage to potentially corrosive civil unions that straight couples can take advantage of too. Liberals and leftwingers don’t face nearly the same dilemma, since they can reasonably assume that those who choose civil unions over marriage have good reason for doing so (and perhaps will get married later if they want to; obviously, you can’t tell from data like this how many partners in pacs decide to get married later on).