legalisation of same sex marriage has finally passed into law on the 7th of December 2017 following the postal survey’s positive outcome in the prior November. The definition of who can marry will no longer be “a man and
a woman” but will now be “two people” to the exclusion of all others.
this change to the marriage law has been in the spotlight recently, it is interesting to reflect
on the laws and rules governing ‘marriage’ that have changed often over the
years, revealing the changing lifestyles
and values of the peoples of those times.
a speech for marriage equality last year, Penny Wong said; ‘Marriage is an
enduring institution, but it has never been frozen in time. Earlier generations
have sought greater equality, and with each change (to marriage) came warnings
that the institution would be irreparably damaged and that the
fabric of society would unravel.’
warnings have proven unfounded. Marriage has endured because it has evolved,
adapted and embraced change. These changes have been accepted by society and
previous discriminatory practices are now unthinkable.
origins of the word “marriage” come from ‘maritus’ which is from Latin,
meaning ‘husband’, “partner’ or ‘lover‘. The act of marrying was to
become a person’s legally recognised husband, partner or lover. The word
‘Wedd’originated from an Old Saxon word to pledge oneself. The original meaning
of these words is no less suitable in the context of same sex marriage.
Despite biblical scripture detailing marriage rules in both
the old and new testaments, the church has not always been required in the
Not until 1076 did the Council of Westminster decree that
‘no man can give a female relative to a prospective groom without the blessing
of a priest’. By 1600, European laws decreed that a priest is required to
conduct all wedding ceremonies.
For the next few hundred years, the church had very
definite ideas about who could be married, ideas that would seem strange to us
You could not marry a spouse with a different faith, people
of different races could not marry, people with a disability or those could not
produce children could not marry.
Different classes of people have been excluded from the institution
of marriage based on their social or legal status, such as slaves or prisoners.
Our indigenous people were not allowed to marry without permission from the
state, a practice that persisted until the 1950s in some areas of Australia.
The idea of marrying for love, or to choose your own spouse
is a relatively recent idea. Traditionally, a wedding or union was a financial
arrangement between families and individuals with dowries, land and money
involving many years of negotiations. Women were usually traded in these arranged
marriages, to increase her families’ status, wealth or landholdings. Although
this still occurs in
some parts of the world, young couples getting married do not have such great problems
as their forbearers.
Until November 1942, the legal age
for girls to marry in Australia was 12 and for boys it was 14. Tasmania was the
first state to raise the ages to marry to 16 and 18 respectively with other
states following suit later.
the person conducting marriage ceremonies has evolved. Until the 1970s, it was
overwhelmingly the role of men of religion who were able to conduct a legal
marriage. Today, male and female religious ministers, male and female civil celebrants
or the registry offices can legally marry a couple.
fact, around 75% of all marriage ceremonies are now performed outside of a
church. This change reflects the way that marriage is viewed in Australia, and
how the concept of marriage is evolving to reflect this.
And so, this is just another change to the structure of the
institution of marriage which reflects the world that we live in. Recognising
that all people in love, regardless of their gender, would be able to have that
love recognised in a legally binding marriage ceremony.
While this might be one
more progressive change in the history of ‘marriage’, for many it is life
changing and long overdue.