Forget Equality… Does Marriage Have A Place In Society At All?

same-sex marriage debate

With the same-sex marriage debate in full swing, on Monday night Q&A raised the question of whether marriage has any place in society at all.

With rising divorce rates, should we discontinue our focus on marriage and instead focus on relationships and commitment?

Philosopher AC Grayling said the legal institution of marriage is very sexist in its origins and should not exist in that form at all.

“But there’s another sense of the word marriage which is the commitment that two or perhaps more — I don’t know — people make to one another about pooling their resources, mutually supporting one another,” he said.

“In that sense of marriage, what Shakespeare was talking about when he said the marriage of two minds, that’s important to us as human beings because we care about the affections and we want somebody to love and be loved by.”

Israeli MP and feminist Merav Michaeli (pictured) raised a similar distinction to Dr Grayling but in much stronger terms.

“(Marriage was) created back at a time when we women were commodities, as were children, as were men without property and of other colours,” she said.

“This is not something that we should maintain in the world when we realise all of us are human beings.”

While adamantly endorsing the equality of love, Ms Michaeli said love had nothing to do with the institution of marriage, calling it “a tool made to dominate women for the sake of reproduction.”

Liberal senator Zed Seselja and independent senator Lucy Gichuhi disagreed, calling marriage between a man and a woman “foundational to our community” and “the backbone of most families: and a family is the lowest bedrock of any civil society” respectively.

Q&A host Virginia Trioli challenged Ms Michaeli to provide an alternative to marriage.

She offered two alternative “default arrangements” which could be offered by the state, focusing on child-rearing and co-habitation.

Children could have more than two parents, which would not necessarily be their biological parents but must be someone taking responsibility for the child.

“(They need) to be obligated for certain criteria that the state should actually decide on, what does it mean that you’re responsible for the child?”

The other arrangement would take the shared financial and social aspects of marriage and formalise them between any two people, whether they have a shared romance or are simply room-mates.

This, she said, would prevent the explosion that often happens in divorce when financial matters have not been discussed openly.

Dr Grayling supported same-sex marriage, saying it was a very different thing to the institution that he and Ms Michaeli objected to.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said we must have marriage equality while we persist with the institution of marriage in Australia.

On the ‘no’ side, Senator Seselja specifically referred to marriage between a man and a woman as being the basis of society, and raised concerns over freedom of speech and the rights of parents.

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