Let’s get gov­ern­ment out of mar­riage

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS - Damien Grant

Ispent last week­end in Syd­ney, tor­ment­ing my in-laws and watch­ing the NRL Grand Fi­nal. The lat­ter was fun and the for­mer was made easy by the big is­sue fac­ing the coun­try: a plebiscite on gay mar­riage.

We’ve set­tled this is­sue in New Zealand but per­haps it’s time to ask a deeper ques­tion – why does any­one need the Gov­ern­ment’s per­mis­sion to get hitched at all? What mar­ket fail­ure ex­ists that re­quires Par­lia­ment to reg­u­late who can legally form a beast with two backs?

His­tor­i­cally mar­riage in Eng­land was a pri­vate af­fair. Most peo­ple elected to get mar­ried in their lo­cal church. A mar­riage was what­ever cus­tom dic­tated. This changed in 1753 when Par­lia­ment man­dated that only wed­dings con­ducted by Angli­can priests were valid. Jews and Quak­ers had their cer­e­monies le­git­imised but not the Catholics. Nat­u­rally. In 1836 the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment cre­ated the op­por­tu­nity for a sec­u­lar wed­ding and the right of Catholics to get mar­ried was for­mally per­mit­ted. We’ve largely in­her­ited this tra­di­tion.

The ini­tial law was de­signed to punch non-con­form­ist Angli­cans in the nose and re­in­force the Crown’s loathing of Catholics. Ad­mirable as th­ese ob­jec­tives re­main, is it nec­es­sary for the gov­ern­ment to reg­u­late what a mar­riage is and to re­quire us to get per­mis­sion be­fore we tie the knot?

Peo­ple en­joy get­ting ap­proval from au­thor­ity fig­ures. Get­ting a pat from the boss is nice – and we all like it when Daddy tells us how proud he is – but seek­ing the state’s bless­ing be­fore the wed­ding cer­e­mony isn’t ra­tio­nal. Laws pro­tect­ing spouses and chil­dren when a re­la­tion­ship ends make sense but there isn’t any rea­son for MPs to be dic­tat­ing who can and can­not get mar­ried.

It is nat­u­ral for the gay com­mu­nity to want the state to ex­tend the same ap­proval for their relationships as is now ex­tended to Catholics but per­haps we can take a big step back and ask if mar­riage, like the taxi and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion in­dus­tries, could ben­e­fit from dereg­u­la­tion?

Par­lia­ment got into the mar­riage busi­ness for per­ni­cious rea­sons and its in­volve­ment has done noth­ing to aid the path of true love. Tra­di­tions change. We no longer ask the bride’s fa­ther for per­mis­sion nor, re­gret­tably, do brides of­fer to obey their hus­bands. Mar­riage laws are al­ways decades be­hind so­cial norms and cause noth­ing but grief, re­in­force dis­crim­i­na­tion and le­git­imise ha­tred.

It seems shock­ing to pro­pose, but per­haps we’re all grown up enough now to de­cide for our­selves how to get mar­ried, to whom and how of­ten.

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