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What's marriage really got to do with commitment

By Shane Ogden - posted Friday, 26 February 2010

I'm gay and I don't want to get married. Not because I'm not partnered with someone worth marrying. Because I am. And not because I'm unable to commit to a cause. Because what's marriage really got to do with commitment anyway? That marriage is about commitment is just a tired cliché. Like when people are "committed" to alleviating global poverty and so sponsor a child in the developing world. All such people are really committed to is a monthly payment plan to a first-world shibboleth with the added bonus of a picture for the fridge.

Of course, marriage comes with pictures too, albeit more designed to hide the harsh reality of life than to capture it and have it reminded to us at a later date.

Marriage is about legitimacy. About a declaration to the world that a couple is finally in a "real" relationship. A relationship sanctioned by the state, by the parents, by the one true god, by the neighbours. For a male it's about becoming a man and about growing up and no longer playing with childish things - like with your girlfriends and boyfriends behind the shed. It's also a declaration to the world that, consistent with obtaining the title of man, one is capable of supporting and providing for others in the world. Although, for a woman, I'm not so certain that marriage is as much about her legitimacy as is childbirth.


Anyway, I suppose that some, probably many, would have me believe that marriage is actually about love. And that I'm just being cynical. Some of those others, with whom Senator Brandis might agree, would also try and have me believe that I can't comment because I've never been married (and will never be allowed to marry). But marriage is nothing more than a human theoretical construct. An idea. Just because I might have had an idea doesn't preclude you from commenting on it. And just because a particular group adopts an idea and proclaims ownership over it doesn't mean they really do have ownership over it. An idea cannot be owned.

Love, however, is a feeling. (Or at least that's the love I'm talking about in this article.) Now, feelings can be controlled, but we don't much countenance controlling love if only because we prefer love take on mystical, incomprehensible qualities. And so where marriage has strict boundaries - take, for example, that it must be between a man and a woman - love, as we know it, suffers no such boundaries. Fundamentally, love and marriage don't always marry-up. They can and, as some claim, they often do. But marriage is not about love.

It was very important for the Parliament to amend the Marriage Act to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Not only because to define is to limit, but because an easy way to make legitimate a group of persons is to exclude another group of persons. And small groups of persons are the best to exclude because, typically, they can effect only minor damage in any backlash. In a majority-rules state, assisting a large group of persons to feel better inside is almost always an effective move.

Now to be fair, the current executive government has definitely made progress in terms of equality for gays. Yet it holds steadfast to the exclusive idea of marriage lest it go on upsetting the current self-appointed custodians of marriage: our churches. Most people don't attend church anymore but they are still reverent to the views emanating from the pulpit: even more so when those views are on marriage. Attend church not, but Minister-married they be or want to be. (Again with the picture perfect pictures.)

But I say, let them have it. That is, the churches can have marriage because I don't want it. Let them not recognise divorce. Have them suggest that only virgins should wear white. Allow them to marry only those whom attend their churches regularly - and not just for the last few months. Lend them their airs and lend them their graces.

But don't let the state have at it. Our private sexual relationships are none of the Parliament's or executive government's concern. The state should not be telling me or you that my or your relationship is less legitimate than another. Nor should it be paying any attention to my or your sexual relationships. Ever. And if you do believe that marriage is about love then why on earth is the state dealing in love?


Those that reject the idea of a civil registry because it’s too close to marriage are right. It is too close. So close, that once all laws are equalised, the only difference is appellative.

I don't want to get married because I don't need a pat on the back from the government. And I don't think that anybody else does either. If you need a god's approval then go to your god and get it. But please don't think you need to queue in front of a hideous laminated counter for a piece of paper to be dished out by a government lackey in order to legitimise you and your partner's love. That the government keeps a register of people who f*ck is, well, rather vulgar.

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About the Author

Shane Ogden is a young lawyer who, by writing out his thoughts, is hoping not to bore his friends with those same thoughts quite so much. His views are his own and do not represent his employer's.

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