Thursday, 28 February 2013

Marriage, under government

What’s the role of government in marriage—what is its legitimate role?

Note that I’m not asking what’s the role or position of marriage itself; I’m not asking what marriage is, nor with whom one should be allowed to get married. What I’m asking is: "what is is government’s proper place in the process?

Understand that marriages (however you might personally might choose to define them) pre-dates government recognition of the phenomenon. In fact, the institution of marriage pre-dates government altogether, so historically it’s not a matter of government defining marriage, but recognising it. Governments saw what people were up to, and thought they could take a cut.  (As, incidentally, did the church.)

And what were people up to? They were making agreements between themselves, mostly about co-habiting. As far as the government was legitimately concerned, what they were recognising that people were making these agreements—and it was the government’s job to protect them.  In this sense, in this particular context, the marriage contract is no different to any other contract the government agrees to protect.

Every contract protects an agreement.  You and I can make a contract with whomever we like, agreeing to anything at all, just as long as what we’re agreeing to do is not illegal. You agree to deliver the goods and I agree to pay you. That’s a contract. You agree to deliver a service and I agree to pay you. That’s a contract. You  agree to love, honour and obey, and I agree to give you half of everything I own when we divorce. That’s another contract—what we choose to call a marriage contract. We agree on that deal (maybe after a little negotiation on the details) and the government registers and prepares to defend the contract if necessary.

That’s their job. Our job is simply to live up to what we’ve agreed to (while keeping out of other people’s similar agreements).

And we can agree to anything we like, just as long as what we’re agreeing to do is not itself illegal.

So where does this put gay marriage, and government’s role in it?

Well, what do you think? 

It seems clear enough to me.


  1. A change in our social marriage definition should not be forced through, that action is called oppression and misuse of power.
    No one thinks a man and a man is the social definition of marriage (except gay labour MP's).
    This small special interest group are trying to force a definition change in a social contract from that of a man into that to a woman (omitting society completely).

    If "liberal" people think gay people can't have a state sanctioned lifelong joyful committed personal relationship here in NZ its only because the gay Mp's (and their naive elitist friends) running this campaign have lied to them.
    This personal relationship campaign agenda is to change the definition of marriage to mean that of a "man and man". Its just as crazy as gay Mp's trying to change the definition of that a man to that of a woman.
    Personal comment to gay MP's "Difference exists, so what if you are not a woman/man accept the deference and stop feeling unequal as there are no laws in NZ that stop your right to( your already engaged in) joyful lifelong personal relationships. "
    These campaigners are engaged these joyful lifelong personal relationships now, so in this campaign there is blatant hypocrisy along with oppressive force and misuse of power and position.

    The majority of NZ don't support this campaign.

  2. The question was not: what's your view of gay marriage?

    It was (if I might summarise): If government's role in the marriage contract is simply to recognise voluntary agreements between free people, then how does this bear on the arguments for and against gay marriage?

    So may I invite you to answer THAT question instead of your own?

  3. It seems to me these days government is really recognising civil unions in legislation - either following a ceremony (be it a full blown church wedding or civil union) or by 'de-facto' means following two years of living together.

    I've thought for some time the use of the word 'marriage' by government has really usurped the churches property rights to the word. By that logic the same would follow for 'husband' and 'wife'.

    Perhaps it is time for the government to give back the intellectual property rights in the word 'marriage' to the church? That would leave it to individuals (and in some cases the church) how they wish their special relationship to be recognised.

  4. Peter,

    Re your response to the anonomous hypocrite above: I take it you are aware of Rands "Drooling Beast"?

    Arguments are futile, against those whithout the sense to understand them. Better to delete the comment and not dignify it with a response.

  5. I don't think you can copyright a word like "marriage". To me what it comes down to is that there are people who believe that two dudes can be married, and people who believe that this, by definition, does not constitute one. The issue of rights and enforcing contracts is a separate issue - gay couples already have that protection. The substantial change of this legislation is to change the word at the top of the piece of paper the government gives you.

    Two convincing arguments follow. The first is that the government should not be taking sides on what is essentially a moral and/or a semantic debate between segments of equally valid sectors of society. To allow gay couples to be categorized as married would do that. The second argument suggests that the definition of marriage rests on historic and traditional use rather than majority opinion, or even morality. Just as one would find it ridiculous to call a strawberry a vegetable, a same sex couple cannot be "married". Now definitions may change over time - many words Shakespeare used in his plays ("luxury" for example) mean completely different things today. But what the word means now at this time seems more pertinent than what it "should" mean, or what people want it to mean.


  6. Marriage was not a state institution. What's there to argue.
    Marriages social definition has never been that of a man and man (to found a family ) .
    Now we accept same sex personal relationships but these are not the base relationship for humanity's survival, they are personal relationships of sexual preference.

    I imagine (for the grater benefit of society) Dolf's all for changing the social definition of marriage to polygamy and incest too.

  7. The legitimate role of the state is to protect people against violation of their rights as rational beings. The US Declaration if Independence definition of those rights still serves us well - the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Marriage falls into the latter category. English Common Law provides an entirely adequate framework for protection of those rights. A Marriage Act of any form is probably not necessary (like most other latter-day statutes).

    In other words, the state should get out the marriage business just like it should get out of the coal-mining business.

  8. The govt supports the actions of a special group of MP's using their position to try to change the social definition of marriage in law. Law is all about definition. . This is a power play, some MP’s using state power to claiming be discriminated against. Yet without the legal definition change gay couples in state sanctioned relationships are not discriminated against. In NZ no laws prevent gay state sanctioned personal relationships .Gay couples have been already categorized by the state as married.
    This is not about the rights gay couples already have.
    The existing and traditional social definition of the word marriage is valid, (yet when will a special interest group in state change the definition of marriage to a man, man and man or ? )
    What marriage was meant to mean and what it means to most people (even with the state destruction of the family and erosion of values ) is that of a man and woman of founding the family. How do you think society would’ve done with a definition of marriage of being of the union of a man and a man (pretty extinct actually).
    Peter are the MP's roles to say we need to change the law so that in their state sanctioned personal relationships they are being discriminated against?
    It is pointless to say the question is just one of for or against existing state sanctioned gay personal relationships.

  9. Peter
    Q)So where does this put gay marriage, and government’s role in it?
    A) The govt had already created and supports the institution and their role in state sanctioned gay marriage.

  10. The government has no role whatsoever in relationships, business, health, schools, safety or anything else. People can call themselves whatever they want, I could call myself black, but would not change the fact that I am white.
    Government is based solely on the threat of force, and as an adherent to the NAP it goes against my principles for anyone outside the concerned parties to make definitions to be used by them. Let them call themselves married if that gets their jollies off.

    Just to reiterate, Government has no role whatsoever in relationships. (Problems can be dealt with in private arbitration courts.)


  11. Peter, I take it that you hold spousal privilege to be an illegitimate concept under objective law?

  12. Terry we don't have objective law- it doesn't exist.
    Why did a commentator say that there are only rights there are are rights to property and that the govt's only function should be to protect individual rights (which are only property rights)?
    Can I just say that shouldn't we as humanity aim to self regulate aim to do no harm to others. To see others as ourselves should be the goal then we would not to need to go running to a dysfunctional daddy court and mummy justice system.
    I am glad its clear at least on this site that NZ gay couples have what this bill was said to be for "the state sanctioned gay personal relationships".And the stupidity and deceit of the gay marriage campaign is exposed( not my views).

  13. Anonymous -

    I never said that we have objective law at present. We don't.

    Objective law is common law, where upholding individual rights is the guiding principle.

    Per Wikipedia: "A "common law system" is a legal system that gives great precedential weight to common law, on the principle that it is unfair to treat similar facts differently on different occasions."

    IOW, everyone is equal under the law. Sounds pretty objective to me!


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