Monday, June 21, 2004

Two concepts of marriage

In discussions around the Civil Unions Bill, it has become apparent that there are two concepts of marriage - a secular one and a religious one. The debate about Civil Unions is really about which of these concepts should have pre-eminence in our society.

The secular conception sees marriage as a voluntary partnership - essentially a contract - recognised by the state and conveying certain legal rights.

The religious conception sees marriage as a sacred union blessed by god.

Two things are immediately apparent: firstly, there is nothing in the secular conception which says anything at all about the gender of the parties involved. It is thus inherently liberal (the religious conception may or may not be, depending on the whims of your deity of choice). Secondly, the religious conception is a moral relationship, whereas the secular conception is merely a legal one. While there are moral issues involved (for example, surrounding adultery), the secular conception sees them as being purely between the parties involved, rather than any concern of the state.

Needless to say, I think that a modern, secular state like New Zealand should not be encoding religious conceptions of marriage in its laws. We should be providing a neutral legal framework, not trying to legislate for a particular conception of virtue.