Let’s get government out of marriage
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.