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Marriage is just words

By Graham Young - posted Monday, 1 June 2015

Tony Abbott is looking for a way to get off the hook on gay marriage.

It's not even a first order human rights issue, but it has been portrayed as one, and anyone who opposes it is then wedged as a bigot.

The Irish referendum result shows just how quickly this issue is moving. If erstwhile conservative Catholic Ireland can vote "marriage equality" in, then Australia, which shares a lot of Celtic DNA with that other Old Country, could be close behind.


There is no point in being hit by the bus if it is going to come down the tunnel. Better to get it off the road before the next election if possible, but without losing the Christian right-wing vote.

But the solution to the dilemma is not to legislate for gay marriage, but to take marriage out of the legislation and for government to stop registering marriages of any sort.

For a government that draws its philosophical inspiration from theories of individual liberties and rights, and which boasts of the metres of red tape it has cut, legislatively enshrining what is, and what isn't, marriage is an unnecessary restriction on individuals, and an unnecessary bureaucratic financial burden.

On a reasonable historical perspective, the state has not been registering marriages for very long at all.

When Australia was first settled it is a reasonably safe bet that the number of irregular intimate relationships far exceeded the number of regular ones, and that is just amongst the European colonisers and the sailors that hove into port.

Defining marriage as between a man and a woman was actually only introduced into legislation by John Howard in 2004, although it had a predating common law existence.


The legal consequences of being married, as separate from being in a de facto relationship, of whatever kind, are minimal to non-existent. It doesn't affect property distribution, or access orders to children.

Theologically marriage is a sacrament that the participants actually confer on each other.

Or at least that's what the Anglican priest told my former wife and me when we confessed to being in a de facto relationship at the beginning of our marriage instruction.

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An edited version of this article was first published in the Australian Financial Review.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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