“Redefining” marriage: suck it up, Bob edition

Same sex marriage has come up as an issue in the Kiwi politisphere.  It should be no surprise at all where I fall on this, so allow me to steal the words of others:

The state has no business in our bedrooms, or in dictating to us the sorts of relationships we should pursue. If the parties involved are consenting adults, then it is none of the state’s business what they do. And this is exactly why I support same-sex marriage: because it puts all relationships on an equal footing, and gets the government out of people’s bedrooms.

What I want to address is this old canard, most recently elaborated by Bob McCoskrie and his Amazing Talking Boner (who also like to use “gays” as a noun).

The state – which did not invent marriage – has no authority to re-invent it.

Bob is correct, to the best of my knowledge.  The patriarchal claiming of women as the property of individual men in order to ensure property passed to one’s genetic offspring probably long predates the concept of “state”.

Bob is also, still, entirely full of shit.

You know, I have no problem with particular churches or groups wearing their bigotry on their sleeves by choosing, individually, not to perform ceremonies uniting and recognising the relationships of same-sex people.

But all marriage equality/gay marriage/civil unions do is extend the state’s recognition of those relationships.

And that ain’t just about a pretty piece of paper.

There are clear societal and economic benefits to getting married in the eyes of the state (whether your ceremony is in a church, on a beach, in the back of a car).

In the US (damn the lack of good easily-found lists like this for NZ), there are one thousand, one hundred and thirty-eight federal benefits, rights and responsibilities which are contingent on being part of a legally-recognised marriage.

In NZ, off the top of my head, there’s property rights, superannuation rates (admittedly, a disincentive to be old and married if there ever were one), and if Peter Dunne gets his way, income-splitting – which, oops, Bob and his pretend fanclub completely support.

So the state does have a “definition” of “marriage” which it has created to suit its purposes.

And which it has changed to suit its purposes.

Sorry, Bob:  people don’t get married as much any more.  It might have something to do with us all being godless heathens, or it might be something to do with organised religion’s strangehold on society lessening, which means a whole bunch of us figured out that for us, personally, it wasn’t necessary to get an old white dude to say magic words for our relationships to have meaning.

(Well, it’s probably both.)

But the fact is that as societal attitudes to marriage has changed, so has the law.  Which is why we have legal definitions of de facto relationships, to wit:

In deciding whether two people live together as a couple, the Court will consider all the relevant circumstances, including:

  • How long the relationship has lasted;
  • The extent to which the couple share a home;
  • Whether they have a sexual relationship;
  • Their financial and property arrangements and interdependence;
  • Their ownership, use and acquisition of property;
  • Their degree of mutual commitment to a shared life;
  • Their care and support of children;
  • Who does the housework and other household duties;
  • The reputation and public aspects of the relationship (e.g. whether the partners are known to family and friends as “a couple”).

These factors are only a guide. The presence or absence of any one of them will not necessarily determine whether there is a de facto relationship.

Emphasis mine.  And it ain’t all about length, either:

If your relationship has lasted for less than three years, you may still be covered by the Act if there is a child, or if you have made a substantial contribution to the de facto relationship.

No magic words in a pretty stone building required.

My point, if I’m ever going to get to one, is that sure, whatever, Marriage Predates The State And So On.  But the state has its own definition of marriage, a definition which has changed and will continue to change, and its definition applies to everyone, not just those who believe in one god or the other (though presumably Bob doesn’t give a toss about other people’s faiths or beliefs or heathen ceremonies).

Bob is perfectly happy for the state to “define” marriage when it means those families wealthy enough to live on one income can lower their tax burden.  Tough shit on him if the state decides its own definition is up for debate.


In the meantime, our PM has declared that there isn’t a “clamour” for marriage equality, ergo he doesn’t care (and by whatever gods there may be I bet that line is pissing off the pro-smacking lobby).  Why not send him a wee line to let him know his cowardice is unappreciated?


  1. annanonymous

    I actually miss the days of more radical critiques of marriage itself, rather than who ought to be eligible for it. But I’m difficult.

    • QoT

      I’m all for some more radical critiques! But in the meantime, since marriage is still accorded such significance societally and legally (even when de facto relationships are treated equally by law) I’d rather level the playing field before burning it down.

  2. lilacsigil

    In Australia we get pretty much all the rights (and all the money-related rights) of straight de facto couples, which is great…as long as we don’t want to adopt, do IVF in some states, or travel overseas and be recognised as married there. I don’t even want to get married (as I am in a same-sex relationship with no intention of adopting, doing IVF or travelling overseas) but as long as there’s tangible benefits to it, marriage equality is important.

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