Tim Yeo MP is quoted in Sunday newspapers suggesting that David Cameron should abandon his commitment to support marriage through the tax system. "There are lots of families who are families in every meaningful respect, but don't happen to have parents who are married," he is reported as saying, but "I think a tax break which effectively discriminates against such people and their children would be seen as wrong."
Tim Yeo frets about discriminating against unmarried couples but he is out of touch with the real problem. The current system discriminates against married couples. One aspect of this discrimination was recently highlighted by LibDem MP David Laws.
Mr Yeo's remarks appear to substantiate suggestions by CPS author Janet Daley - in today's Sunday Times - that a large number of Conservative MPs believe that any commitment to marriage is "politically unacceptable".
Mr Cameron made a commitment to support marriage as one of the first acts of his Tory leadership bid. This commitment and that to quit the EPP were the two bankable pledges that helped earn him the support of right-wing MPs (like those belonging to the socially conservative Cornerstone Group).
Mr Cameron sees support for marriage as a way of fighting social exclusion. All of the evidence suggests that family breakdown hurts the poorest children most. For that reason he has given Iain Duncan Smith's social justice policy group the job of formulating a family policy. That group may recommend action in the tax and benefits system that will eliminate the marriage penalty. It is likely to recommend a much broader set of pro-family initiatives, however. Healthy marriages education and family impact statements may be part of the policy toolkit that IDS' team recommends.