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Where is the dignity?

By Michael Thompson - posted Wednesday, 5 October 2016

There is something quite undignified about the push to change the Marriage Act to include homosexuals. It is seen in rather simplistic terms as just a question of discrimination or equality but it needs to be examined more closely in terms of the relationship between citizens and the government

Same-sex couples want the government to give them their rights. The argument they put forward is that heterosexual couples have the right to marry and the denial of this to homosexual couples is simply discrimination based on sexuality. There is one glaring premise in this argument which seems to always go untested and that is that heterosexuals have the right to government acknowledgement of their relationship as a marriage.

The fact that heterosexuals have their relationship acknowledged as a marriage does not mean that they have a right to this state of affairs. It does not mean that they have a right to a certificate from the government which affirms their relationship as a marriage.


Citizens have many rights in relation to their governments but a right to a government issued certificate of marriage is not one of them. In order for something to be declared a right a reasonable argument needs to be put forward as to why you should have it in the first place and there is no reasonable argument why governments should issue marriage certificates.

There seems to be two streams of thought as to why people think they have a right to a government issued certificate. There are the emotional issues and the practical issues.

People attach emotional significance to the act of getting married. We see many claims in the current debate that 'love is love' and that not being able to marry somehow de-values the love between homosexual partners. Whether or not a same-sex couple love each other is a question only they can truly answer. It is very undignified to ask someone else to affirm that your relationship is a loving one. It shows insecurity in one's own judgment about what love is and whether or not it exists in any particular relationship. No couple should ask anyone outside the relationship to pass judgment on these very personal and intimate feelings. If your love is ultimately dependent on what others think of it then it is not truly love at all.

Another emotional significance is to see a marriage certificate as a sign of security of relationship. People believe that such a certificate somehow solidifies a relationship and makes it less likely that a partner will leave. It is undignified to ask someone else to bind your relationship by legal means. It demonstrates insecurity in a person's capacity to maintain a relationship with their partner based on attraction. People should remain together because they love each other and not because they are legally bound to each other. Asking the government to control your partner's presence is undignified. It is up to the couple themselves to work through their issues and to come to a decision based on their own feelings for each other and not on some government issued restraint.

People attach other types of emotional significance to marriage but ultimately it is not up to the government to pass judgment on these things. What emotional value you place on marriage is your own responsibility and government issued marriage certificates will never diminish that responsibility.

It is the area of practical application where marriage certificates are more problematic. Governments have a responsibility to impart certain benefits to those of its citizens who live together as a couple and that responsibility is just as real whether the couple has a marriage certificate or not. Since there is no distinction in benefits there is no need to seek one by pursuing a marriage licence. In order to avail yourself of all the things you are entitled to you only need to present as a couple according to the government's own definition of what constitutes a couple.


You have a right to those benefits but you do not have a right to a government issued marriage certificate. There is no good reason to have one. Unless you can present a good reason for having something from the government then you cannot say it is your 'right' to have it. No couple has a right to a government issued marriage certificate.

These are the principles which should underlie the relationship between government and couples. When such arguments are promoted it is common for opponents to present an individual instance where it seems discrimination has occurred. These examples can show where couples have been discriminated against because they did not have a marriage certificate or where homosexual couples have been discriminated against because of their sexuality. Any type of discrimination should be dealt with according to the principles which apply in any case of discrimination.

It is undignified to deal with issues of discrimination or justice by pursuing a government issued marriage licence. You have a right to be treated without discrimination because you are a member of society and you should fight discrimination by demanding your rights to whatever it is that you are being denied. We have courts that deal with discrimination so that justice can be served. If, for example, you are being denied any participation in decisions normally reserved for 'next of kin' then you should fight for those rights. If you think you are entitled to them you should not resort to obtaining them by other methods such as attaining a government marriage certificate. If you think you have rights to an inheritance then you should fight for those rights based on the closeness of relationship you had with the person who has left assets behind. You should not have to marry to get what is your right. It is undignified to pursue a marriage certificate in order to obtain the same rights that other couples already enjoy without a marriage certificate. You are in effect endorsing yourself as not worthy of these rights unless you are married.

Couples who pursue a government issued marriage certificate are saying something rather significant about themselves. They are saying that their own judgment about the emotional significance of their relationship is not good enough or that they are not worthy of the government benefits given to couples unless they get married. Either way they are showing what they think about themselves and their values. They are saying that having a government issued marriage certificate is more important to them than acting with integrity and self-respect. Nothing is more important than that.

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About the Author

Michael Thompson is a freelance writer and blogger interested in social issues. His particular focus is on exposing the emotional manipulation that passes for reasonable and logical debate in many social issues. He believes civilised society changes for the better when it does so for good reasons and not because the loudest, most aggressive or most manipulative of its citizens get their way. His blog can be found at Social Justice Issues.

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