Marriage: it’s not really a ‘right’

Let’s be very clear up front: I do absolutely support the fight for same-sex marriage. Given that marriage is a valuable set of privileges that a government is in the business of offering to its citizens, it is absolutely necessary that those privileges be equally available to all citizens. What I’m not always clear on is *why* the government is in the business of granting marriages and the accompanying privileges and status that are part and parcel with a marriage license, or whether it should necessarily be a thing at all.

What really bothers me is the way that things like marriage, in the context of LGB politics, are talked about as “rights”. I honestly don’t think that marriage is a right. I don’t think that governments are obligated to recognize marriage at all, and I wouldn’t necessarily be against the abolition of the civil institution of marriage altogether (I’m not really for the abolition of marriage either; I’m somewhat of a marriage agnostic in many ways, though I also acknowledge that I have taken advantage of the institutions privileges and its availability to me). The actual right that we should be talking about when we discuss same-sex marriage or whatever other government-granted privileges from which LGB people are discriminatorily excluded is simply the right to equal treatment. People don’t have a right to have a government that grants marriages, to them or to anyone, but if a government is granting marriages, then everyone should have the equal right to attain that privilege.

So, as long as governments continue to issue marriage licenses, I am absolutely in favour of those licenses being available to all forms of (consenting adult) couples, regardless of the relative sexes of those involved, and I believe that LGB people have an absolute right to be included in that institution as long as it exists. But I still don’t think that marriage, in and of itself, is a right.


  1. I think the use of the word “right” is kind of murky, but I support the use of it. I don’t entirely know how I feel about marriage as a legal institution at all – you need *some* sort of legal definitions of relationships but what is best I don’t know. Here in NZ we have defacto partnerships, which I’m a fan of and works for me, but I know there are some differences in what rights my partner and I have to people with civil unions or marriages.

    Along with that, I find it utter bullshit to police the number of partners a person may have: or the number of parents, for that matter. (I cannot have my father who raised me on my birth certificate without ousting the dead father who is still very much mine.) The issues in polygamous sub-cultures are matters of agency and consent, not the inherent unethicalness of multipartner marriages IMO.

    Personally, I think a good start would be to start to disassociate the word “marriage” from both the legal process and as the default serious relationship. Ie: you can choose for your union to be a marriage, but it doesn’t mean you have a more serious or legally recognised union than anyone else.

    I also hate the words husband and wife for straight couples, but that’s my hang up. :P

    Ultimately, getting a majority of the word on side with gay marriage is the important thing right now, and as long as marriage is affiliated with rights, those are rights all couples should have. Everyone has the right to those rights, and whether marriage should be the gatekeeper to those is a separate question.

    I came here from Feministe, and am enjoying your posts. :)

    1. Yeah, in Canada we have commonlaw partnerships, as well, which cover some of the same thing as full, legal marriage. And, um, yeah, I have nothing more to ass other than a point-by-point agreement with what you’ve said here :)

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