The case against legalising marriage

During the Civil Unions debate I kept arguing, in private settings, that we shouldn’t legalise same-sex marriage; that it was the fourth best option and we should actually be aiming to delegalise all marriage. Anjum’s post at the Hand Mirror about why the 2 year separation period is nonsensical reminded me of why we shouldn’t let the Crown be in charge of our marriages.

Marriage is a family, societal or religious bond. It belongs to the people who get married, and their family, their friends, their communities, their congregations and their God(s). Why should any of us be required to ask the Queen for permission (or Anand Satyanand, or Lockwood Smith, or John Key, or Brendan Boyle depending on your view of the constitutionality)? Isn’t it a marriage when we get married, not when we send a form to the Queen (etc etc)? Isn’t it up to us, our friends and families, our communities and churches to decide what marriage means, not 80 people in 1955?

If I ever chose to get married, I would do so in a ceremony appropriate to my culture, community and faith. We would stand before our family, friends and community and ask them to bless and care for our marriage. We would make promises of marriage to each other, and the people around us would witness and support that. Isn’t that what it takes to make a marriage?

19 thoughts on “The case against legalising marriage

  1. Actually I think the laws on marriage, and those on civil unions, and defacto relationships are mostly to do with various legal rights. The dominant rights that the law is concerned with are those to do with property (who gets what after marriage break-up), and inheritance.

  2. I’m pretty sure our laws on relationship property and inheritance have been extended to de facto relationships. That is they don’t require a legal relationship approved by the Queen (or her representative) to safe guard our rights.

  3. Unfortunately, if you are originally from the UK, your defacto relationship is not recognised there and if you want a share of your partner’s pension you need to get married. There is a civil union – but only if you are a same sex couple!

  4. Yes, Anita, I agree with you on the legal status of defacto relationships in NZ. I think the shift towards inclusion of de facto and civil unions in these laws shows how the social aspects of marriage (as you posted above) have become intertwined with the legal aspects. In a way it now has become a contradiction.

  5. Interesting post, I need to think about it a bit more!

    But just wanted to ask – what are you first three options in terms of recognising same sex unions?

  6. Julie Fairey,

    But just wanted to ask – what are you first three options in terms of recognising same sex unions?

    1) Remove all legislative control and recognition of marriage. Where the state needs to know about a relationship it should do that by considering only the relevant functional nature of the relationship (e.g. “are they caring for children together?”, “are they involved in managing each other’s health?”). So get the state out of setting the rules for our relationships and make them honour what we do.

    2) Remove all legislative control of marriage, but create a civil “registered union” which is open to all. So get the state of our setting the rules for our relationships, but provide a shortcut for the state in considering relationships. That leaves “marriage” to the community, which is where it should be.

    3) Alter the legislation to open up marriage to all. Leaves the state involved in setting the rules for our relationships, but at least they wouldn’t be bringing bigotry to the decision.

  7. If you’re talking in terms of practical implementation, there are good practical reasons why NZ can’t just unilaterally dismantle a legal institution which other countries rely upon; or more specifically, which our people rely upon in other countries. I speak with particular reference to the UK, where I am not entitled to one of their passports because my parents were unmarried when I was born, while my younger brother and sister are, because they (the parents) had gotten hitched in the interim; and where a dear friend has only the usual working holiday rights in the UK, although her (male) civil union partner is a British citizen, because UK law does not recognise NZ civil union as a marriage.

    There are plenty of other countries presenting variations on these problems – most of Asia, for one thing, all of the Middle East for another.

    If you’re talking about the principle of marriage and arguing for multilateral devolution of marriage law to individual culture and family tradition or choice, then I fear you have an even harder task.


  8. Lew:

    Perhaps we can have the audacity to set the international standard as a humane, progressive society.

    I mean, we were the first *country* to have universal suffrage, so why shouldn’t we lead the world in this regard as well?

  9. Why would anyone (gay or straight) want to choose to enter a social institution most commonly associated with inequality, repression and, judging by the statistics on divorce and spousal abuse, sheer hell?
    Some sections of the gay community positively welcome the marriage thing as a step forward for conservatism (Andrew Sullivan has been tirelessly plugging marriage for gays as a dyke against that damn promiscuous party lifestyle).
    If it’s for societal approval of their relationship status, the tax and legal advantages then I would say: a pox on your house. The real issue should be: why are there legal and tax advantages attached to your relationship status, and how should they be abolished. Choosing to live together, or even to breed/adopt, should not have to be financed by single people and childless couples. I would welcome any legislation that did away with discrimination on the basis of your relationship status – and no, I’m not talking about your favourite sheep, All Black fans – as single people and childless couples are increasingly targeted to pay for the chosen lifestyle of “breeders” (single or coupled). I can’t understand why you get tax and social benefits just because you are lucky enough to have somebody in your life who still wants to be with you after the first date.

  10. Interesting, Anita, that Anjum’s post made you think about the need to abolish marriage. From my discussions with her, that’s not at all what she wanted to encourage. One of her main objections to the two year divorce stand down is that it impedes people’s ability to remarry.

  11. Seems an eminetly sensible and common sense approach to the issue, Anita.

    Meaning it’s utterly doomed in terms of likely acceptance by our \leaders\ of any stripe :-/

  12. Its actually not a bad idea, Anita. It would allow marriage to be a statement of religious beliefs rather than a mechanism for legal rights. I should point out, however, that many of those legal rights are there for the protection of women and children, so one would have to find another way of attributing those rights to a relationship.

  13. I married after many years of a de facto because it was too hard to deal with the various commercial and government organisations out there if you weren’t. Something as simple as a joint bank account could get quite tortuous – might be better now 15 years later. Also a problem with property rights – my now wife had a different nationality and if I karked it she was OK but if she kicked the bucket her family owned half our communal belongings. All in all – I don’t see the genie being put back in that bottle.

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  18. I absolutely agree with the proposition.

    Marriage has been made too much of – it was originally simply a (strong) formalisation of the relationship between a man and a woman who were having sex, for the purposes of managing childbearing. It’s been divorced from that for 50 years now (with effective contraception) and there is no reason why we should continue on with the state managing an institution from another time.

    And for the international thing, you could perhaps be given a marriage certificate on leaving the country. I’m sure there are ways to do these things…

    More to say later…

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