Friday, October 21, 2011

Marriage should be for all

Writing in the Dominion-Post this morning, Deborah Russell argues that marriage should be for all. Her core argument:

The state has no business in the marriage game. It does have a legitimate interest in noting who is in a committed relationship. As a society, we want to be able to tell which people happen to be sharing accommodation as mere flatmates, and which have amalgamated their interests for the foreseeable future.

We allocate rights and responsibilities on the basis of those amalgamations, such as welfare entitlements and tax credits, and obligations to support other people. But why should the state care about whether those committed relationship households are based on male/female couples, or same-sex couples, or trios, or whatever?

It is unfair the state gives a certain status (marriage) to some households but not others. Either the recognition ought to apply to all, or none. Anything else represents the state picking and choosing among citizens, saying some are more worthy than others. That ought to be anathema in an egalitarian society.

I should point out that the government's decisions over the allocation of resources are already required to be non-discriminatory, and thanks to the Relationships (Statutory References) Act 2005, largely are (the notable exception to this is adoption rights). What's at stake here is the status of marriage itself, where the government is elevating different-sex couples over same-sex ones.

This is not something it should be doing. Social arrangements are the private domain of the people concerned, not of the state. The state's interest in the matter begins and ends at "preventing the perils of clandestinity" i.e. stopping people from misleading prospective partners about their relationship status. There is no state interest in telling adults that their relationships aren't "good enough", or trying to steer them towards some idealised family structure preferred by old bigots. That's a gross intrusion into the private domain, as squicky as telling people how, and how often, they are allowed to have sex.

The good news is that 60% of kiwis recognise this. The question we should all be asking of candidates this election is why our politicians don't.