I’m not sure it’s discrimination to say that you don’t consider a certain relationship to be marriage. It just depends what you mean by the word “marriage”. And people evidently strongly disagree about what the “correct” definition is.
But perhaps the real problem is that we’ve got the idea that a couple are “really” married if and only if the state says they are, and therefore that the state’s definition of “marriage” is the “official” definition. So marriage becomes an honour bestowed on couples by the state, rather than a public commitment made between the two people. In that case, you could well argue that it is discriminatory for the state to honour opposite-sex relationships more highly than it honours same-sex relationships (as it would be discriminatory to “define” MBE etc. so that only men were eligible).
Maybe it would be better (as Matthew Parris and others have suggested) if we removed the word “marriage” from the law altogether? Couples could then register a “civil union” and the rest of us would be able to use the word “marriage” according to our convictions, without the state telling us that our sincere beliefs about “marriage” are right or wrong.
Why not go all the way—no state-defined marriage nor any state-defined civli unions? This would put all people on an equal footing. There are certain rights and responsibilities which go with marriage (or a civil union), but I don’t think that these need to be defined by law today anyway.
Being married (as recognised by the state) brings a large number of automatic rights regarding pensions, hospital/prison visitations, tax (inheritance and otherwise), ownership of property, custody of children etc. These need protecting by law for any couple, straight or gay.
Regarding the word `marriage’, if that word can only be used by a church then which one? What about the rights of atheist who want to be married? btw a `civil marriage’ is equally `a public commitment made between the two people’.
“Being married (as recognised by the state) brings a large number of automatic rights regarding pensions, hospital/prison visitations, tax (inheritance and otherwise), ownership of property, custody of children etc. These need protecting by law for any couple, straight or gay.”
Yes, but: What are they? Are they necessary today (keeping in mind the possibility for notarized agreements, testaments, wills etc)? Who decides what they are and on what basis? Why should we discriminate against polygamous people? What about people who would like the same rights without a sexual relationship and/or without cohabitation?
Many of the rights are a means to get people to marry who otherwise wouldn’t.
There are of course reasons why the state might want to encourage people to have children (or, if the population is too high, encourage them not to), but this is independent of the marital status of the parents. In other words, doing away with state-recognized marriage does not imply that there would be no financial benefits for people with children, say.
OK, let’s say a couple (I’m saving the rights of the polygamous for another time) want to publicly declare their love for each other and spend their life together in some form (whether they are straight/gay/religious/atheist). They have an expectation to some rights.
These rights have changed over time and are enshrined into law by elected government with the general consent of the people. Yes, there’s always debate on the detail, but if there wasn’t then you wouldn’t need democracy.
As it stands a marriage certificate is in effect a notarised agreement giving the above rights, albeit far cheaper probably than getting lawyers to give you such a thing. It does not compel anyone to have sex or live together, or have children.
I do support the rights of families where the parents don’t wish to be married, and some of the rights I refer to are accrued over time by living together as a family. Equally though if you know you want to be married with the public recognition of friends, family and government (important for the wandering lifestyle of astronomers and supportive spouses) you should be able to have it with those rights.
In some countries, one loses some rights if one doesn’t live together over a long period of time. (This might be, in some cases, a mechanism to prohibit pro-forma marriages for getting residence permits etc but, I think, not in all cases.)
Hi Nick – Could they not keep the same marriage certificate and legal rights etc, but simply replace the (highly-contested) word “marriage” with something more benign and open it up to same-sex couples?
Hi Anthony, that word is only highly-contested for a minority. So if only religions can marry people can straight non-religious people/atheists marry? Which religions get that choice? Is it retrospective so you `unmarry’ anyone who doesn’t conform to the new system? Marriage belongs to society, not religion, and government should support the rights of the society.
Nick – I just looked back at my comments on this thread, and I hadn’t mentioned religion at all. But as you bring the subject up, I wouldn’t actually agree with the statement “only religions can marry people”. In fact, from a Christian perspective, I would argue that marriage has (or should have) nothing to do with religious institutions. It seems to me that the best way the government can support the rights of us in society to hold to our own beliefs about marriage is to stop assuming a monopoly on marriage.
And thanks for posting this video, Peter. Let’s hope the law is changed soon.
I agree with some of the comments above. In many ways the fairest thing would be for the state to pay no attention at all to whether people are married or single or living in a commune with 27 other people. I’m sure there are many, both straight and gay, who don’t feel the need to have the state validate their relationships anyway. I do however support the Campaign for Equal Marriage, because if the law confers a given legal status on heterosexuals, it seems obviously discriminatory to me to deny the same right to same-sex couples.
The main reason posting the video, however, is simply out of wonder. Even just 20 years ago it was unthinkable that such a film could be made and be taken seriously. Times have changed so much; and in this respect at least, for the better.