What is Marriage? Part 1.

The case for answering this question can seem very straightforward. If two people love each other, why shouldn’t they be allowed to marry?

However, one of the things I’ve noticed in all this discussion is that few people stop and think about the definition of marriage. It’s important to start right. Changing marriage to include Same Sex couples (SSC) could have social consequences. So, can someone tell me what marriage is? At the beginning we have to be able to describe the heart of marriage carefully.

There are two ideas I commonly hear. Are these the essence of marriage?

The first is ‘Love is love!

This statement is used as if it is somehow the standard by which we should be understanding marriage. Is it?

If marriage is only the legal recognition of my emotional bonds to someone, why does the government not require me to have a license to be a father? Love is love but that relationship of love isn’t called marriage and nor does it need a licence.

Perhaps you might want to go a step further and say this type of love involves sex. If this is marriage, why isn’t it law to have to get a license to ‘hook-up’ for a one night stand? If you say it must be permanent to qualify, why are there exclusions to marriage for polygamy (more than one wife) or polyamory (more than one partner of any or both sexes)?

I could go even further and suggest that marriage is about the recognition of the domestic arrangement I choose for myself. Is that it? If this is the case, why don’t we need government approval to get a roommate or a live in nanny?

The second idea involves the term marriage equality.

There is a demand for marriage equality, which implies an imbalance and an injustice. In order to sort this out I’d like to ask what exactly this equality should look like? For example, if the equality being demanded is for equal treatment under the law, then haven’t we got this already? In terms of balance, every SSC has the same legal rights for their registered relationship that are available to every other couple, legally married or in defacto relationships or civil partnerships, with no discrimination.

You can’t argue this equality doesn’t exist. It does. Successive governments have made sure of this.

You could say, an SSC doesn’t have the right to call their partnership ‘a marriage’ and that is unequal. That is true, but is it unjustly unequal?

I am afraid, every law we have would be classified as unjustly unequal if this was the case. Every law has definitions that exclude. Exclusions don’t make a law unjust or unequal. All laws do is recognise different categories. In this case, up until the recent push to change the definition, there are different categories of relationships. Some, like the relationship between a man and a woman are called marriage and they are so because they are of a different category.

So far I think I can make a case that the definitions of marriage that rely on ‘love’ and ‘equality’ don’t adequately explain what marriage is. It is important to get this right, so next time I again ask the question ‘What is marriage?’, and address the definition from a different angle trying to show why a marriage is a unique relationship.