Sunday, April 06, 2014


I have a lot of thoughts and feelings around the recent Brendan/CEO kerfuffle. Mostly though I think it has been better to listen than to talk, so I haven't blogged about it. I will just say that I am very unhappy with the result of it all. I would also like to voice my thoughts on marriage.

One element of misunderstanding, it seems to me, is about whether marriage is important. For some people, marriage is viewed as a purely religious/cultural construct which should be dictated by their religion/culture. They don't see why it is so important for gay people (or sometimes other minority groups) to be able to marry. Especially if alternatives such as civil unions exist. They have the privilege of not being denied the marriage of their choice.

In contrast, for many people marriage is a large and practical thing since it can affect things such as immigration status, benefits, hospital visitation, etc. (As well as having their relationships treated as second class in the eyes of the wider society, of course). In my view, it is unfortunate that the practical side of things exists. I am lucky enough to live in a country where marriage is (mostly) not important in that way, and I prefer it greatly.

Marriage is a wonderful thing, and I would not deny it to anybody who wants it. In my view, it should not involve either the state or any cultural or religious institution. I find the fact that a couple has to be married by a third party weird. In my ideal world, the people being married would only have to marry themselves to each other, and no-one else would get a say. Marriage should simply be a public declaration of commitment in front of the people who are important to those being married. No-one should have to officiate or register it, and no-one should have to say who can or who can't get married. And certainly, being married should have no effects on your legal or moral life.

To clarify, I don't think marriage should lead to tax breaks or extra respect from any institution. I don't believe adultery should be judged any better or worse because of it, etc.

Once marriage brings material benefit from the state or the legal system, and once marriage is bestowed by an institution rather than being freely chosen, it becomes just another tool for enforcing established power. By allowing powerful groups of people to bestow benefits either social or material on individuals, it becomes open to corruption. It becomes something minorities have to fight for and which exclusive majorities seek to prevent others obtaining. That an expression of love and commitment ends up like this is immensely saddening, and says a lot about human society.

And don't even get me started about the commercial side of things. The whole wedding industry makes me feel sick.


Robert said...

Expanding on what Lorenzo said, state-given marriage benefits were, at least in part, a proxy for family benefits. I think it's reasonable for the state to encourage the creation and raising of children in stable families; there's an obvious common-good interest there.

I haven't thought about it very much, but eliminating marriage benefits and targeting them more explicitly at couples who raise children in stable families could be a good thing.

Nick Cameron. said...

@Lorenzo - Yes! Legal privileging of family/clan/tribe over individuals is a really bad thing, IMO. It seems the antithesis to the ideas of human rights and the best parts of western democracy.

Marriage is problematic in this context, because other than birth it is usually the only way to join a family/clan/tribe and thus get the protection and privileges that brings. So this is another reason I wish marriage were not the way it is. But more so, I agree with you that laws that benefit family/clan/tribe over individuals are generally bad.

Nick Cameron. said...

@Robert - agreed. The problem is execution (there has been some debate about this recently in the UK). If the state gives any financial or social benefit to "strong families", that is a strongly regressive benefit. Because it is usually people in 'unstable' families who need the most help, but who would be getting less.

glandium said...

You cannot, in the same post, mention immigration status as a marriage benefit and then say there should be no marriage benefit. Freedom of migration is not going to happen any sooner than the lift of marriage benefits.

Nick Cameron. said...

@Glandium in NZ at least marriage is not relevant for immigration status. If you are not married, being in a 'de-facto' relationship is just as good as being married. If you are married, you must still provide evidence that the marriage is genuine.

So, I am hopeful that this particular marriage benefit can be erased sooner than some others (at least in some places) and certainly sooner than free migration (which I also support).

glandium said...

@Nick Cameron: I'm glad your country is as open on immigration of non-married partners. OTOH, it's a small country with a small population, and I guess few immigration issues. How many other countries are as open? At least none of the major economies I know are.

Nick Cameron. said...

@glandium, heh, I am glad I live here. It is a small country and fairly liberal, and in many ways a shockingly sensible one. It does have immigration issues - in part _because_ it is small, immigration has a large relative effect.

I don't really know about other countries, this is the only I've immigrated into, but I believe, sadly, you are right. In the UK, marriage is privileged, but not trusted - even if you are married you still have to prove it is legitimate, so they are halfway there.

Nick Cameron. said...

@Lorenzo, I'm afraid we will have to agree to disagree - I think the family/clan-centric culture you describe is terrible. It is fine when you are part of it, but what happens when powerful people in the family decide you don't belong? It is a system of power which keeps it in the hands of the powerful. I think it is bad for individuals, and bad for society as a whole. I much prefer the rule of law to survival of the fittest, even if that is the fittest family, not the fittest individual.

BTW, I am not American, I am also (northern) European, I have spent very little time in California.