Recently, I have come across a new mantra amongst people my age of a libertarian/anti-state persuasion. The shunning of Marriage, dismissed simply because it’s 'just a piece of paper.' Some of you may have heard something similar to the following: “We don’t need a piece of paper – our love is pure!” Yes, that’s right, the belief that love is all unicorns, fairies and angel farts… I get it. Good for you! Now, let me explain to you how wrong you are…
A Marriage certificate is not just a piece of paper. It is a contract; and contracts are important. Things like Marriage certificates and Wills are some of the few times in our lives we get to explicitly sign a social contract with the State; however, inadequate they may appear to be. In exchange for signing the contract, certain rights, privileges and obligations are granted from the State.
There are lots of other arguments in favour of Marriage on the basis that Marriage affects the quality of the relationship, more likely to last, etc., but this article is deliberately not concerned with those.
The most valuable thing Marriage and civil partnerships do from a legal standpoint is make you unambiguously related to your partner in the eyes of the law. Governments are big, fat and stupid so unless you have a piece of paper saying you are married to your partner, as far as your Government is concerned you are two unrelated adults.
In recent years there have been calls for the rules to be changed to acknowledge the condition of Cohabitation. Obligations regarding ‘Cohabitation’ are often only applied when there are children under the age of eighteen involved. Once those children become adults, you and your partner effectively go back to being unrelated adults again. That’s how the State treats you if one of you dies prematurely, regardless of how many children you’ve raised together, or how many years you’ve lived together, or how much you loved each other.
I don’t think these laws will ever be changed because Cohabitation is too ambiguous. Oh well, I lived with him for two years and we have a kid, but I lived with him for five years and I loved him more… What? If only there was some sort of contract couples could sign to make their relationship completely unambiguous…
Also, there is no such thing as a ‘Common-law wife/husband/spouse.’ I’m amazed at how many people think that it exists. It’s effectively a polite term for ‘living in sin.’
In the Gay Marriage debate, I found myself rather surprised that no one was actually arguing that Homosexuals should have Marriage because Marriage is good. The main thrust of the debate from ‘liberals’ was about getting the State to acknowledge and sanction Homosexual relationships (despite the fact that when Heterosexuals do it, it’s a caustic patriarchal institution – but that is an article for another day…). I was pro-Gay Marriage because, since Marriage is actually a really, really good and useful contract, it’s blatantly unequal that Homosexual partners should not be allowed to have the privileges of a Marriage contract.
Rather than being a collusion with the State and it’s sanctioned institutions, Marriage acts as a barrier between you and the State. If you die without a Marriage certificate and/or a Will, it is the State who decides what happens to your worldly possessions, your estate, your pension, or even your body. Your partner will probably not be included in those decisions: why leave that up to chance? In a world with so much uncertainly, why shun a tool that provides some measure of certainty?
As you may have guessed by now I’m a fan of Marriage, although I do acknowledge it’s not perfect. What makes the Marriage contract inadequate in many ways is, not it’s relationship with the State but, the fact that it doesn’t resemble a private contract enough.
Marriage is not ‘just a piece of paper,’ it is an exceptionally useful and valuable public contract. Dismiss it as ‘just a piece of paper’ at your peril!
For Conservatives For Liberty, March 2016.