Marriage and equality: What’s love got to do with it?
The marriage traditionally recognised at law is hardly the liberating concept that forms the foundation for the global movement for marriage equality. As an institution, it has traditionally represented a site of inequality for women1 and the social norms associated with that inequality continue to resonate.2 Yet despite these foundations, the institution continues at law even as the legal consequences of marriage have changed significantly, promoting objectives of equality. Now there remain only traces of the legal status traditionally afforded by marriage — official forms for example, continue to ask for marital status.
Despite significant advances in the law’s equal treatment of parties within an intimate relationship, and as between different types of intimate relationship, the vestiges of marriage remain exclusive. While the law prohibits discrimination based on marital status,3 it retains the discriminatory foundation of marriage as restricted only to couples comprising a man and a woman.
Many may feel satisfaction or security in having their status determined according to their State-endorsed (hetero)sexual relationship. Some may seek the retention of the existing legal definition of marriage because their church ordains it, or they may believe that marriage validates and represents their love for their spouse. These views however, provide no basis for the retention at law of the presently conceived institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman entered into voluntarily, for life and to the exclusion of all others.4