Margot Robbie recently fronted Saturday Night Live wearing a shirt with a great encouragement on it, asking for Australia to make marriage equality a thing. It’s a belief, a hope, a thing that I also have, that marriage should be available to all consenting adults that want to form a union with their favourite human. A hope over 70% of Australia has as well, if you read the right poll. [If you missed it, here’s the Margot news]
There’s an issue I have with the campaign, and it’s not some big deep political thing, it’s a word thing. My issue actually stems from the movement behind Robbie’s shirt. It’s a group that has the words “I do” in their title. The big problem is that “I do” does not appear in the Commonwealth Marriage Act of 1961 nor does it appear in the Codes of Practise or the Guidelines on the Marriage Act that every marriage celebrant has to know back to front.
Associating ‘I do’ with marriage is a backwards step in the move towards marriage equality.
‘I do’ is redundant in a post-1961 Australia
All I’m hoping for is that maybe “Say ‘I do’ Down Under” could change it’s name. I don’t have a better suggestion but I’ll try and think of one before the end of the article.
Here’s the thing
If two willing, consenting, adults that are aged eighteen or over and are not married to other people, and one of them is a boy and one of them is a girl, stand in front of two witnesses and an authorised marriage celebrant on Australian ground, they do not have to utter the words “I do”. I would go so far to say that a good marriage ceremony in Australia wouldn’t include the words “I do”. (Do I just sit here and wait to be crucified or do I start building my own cross?)
Calling for an end to “I do” is a weird thing for a celebrant to do but every weekend I attend wedding venues and there are these cute little signs that say “I dos this way” and in programs I’ll see “I dos at 3pm” and all of these references to these words that I never ask couples to speak. Nor does the Australian government. They’re two words we’ve borrowed from church culture, two words steeped in Hollywood’s version of a marriage ceremony (and Hollywood generally does boring as hell marriage ceremonies) and they’re two words I’d love to see completely unhooked from entering into marriage.
The words ‘I do’ are American/church/hollywood leftovers
Australian marriage law is better than the church marrying culture and it’s better than America’s. Yes, we are better than America. Sorry, Obama.
The Marriage Act of Australia asks that couples speak other words, and if they don’t say these words they’re not married. The couple simply needs to call on their witnesses to witness that they take the other person as their husband or wife. They can say these words after they’ve been presented with the “monitum” (latin for warning!) that “Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”. So if you’ve heard me say a monitum, you can say “I take you as my husband/wife” and boom, you’re married.
When the individuals follow that procedure, they’re married. I don’t make them married. Sometime after those words it’s quite normal for a celebrant to say “I pronounce you” but the marriage began when the couple took it upon themselves to say those words. It’s quite magical. A little bit of air escapes our windpipes and bam, you’re married.
The issue with a celebrant asking a question and the couple saying “I do” is that it takes the responsibility for defining and creating the marriage out of the hands of the people that will be in the marriage, and puts it in my hands, their celebrant. It’s subtle, and it’s small but it’s what makes Australian marriages some of the most liberal in the world. The couple makes the marriage, not I. I just witness and record it. As if I’m smart enough to create a marriage, I’m just a celebrant, not a legislator or some kind of sage elderly person. Their marriage is a once in a lifetime marriage, unlike any other marriage on earth. It’s not just a text book marriage, or a lawful marriage, it’s their marriage. The least they could do is take the responsibility for creating it into their own hands, or mouths if you like. And me asking the same question every couple is asked is the most impersonal way to create a marriage, which is why it’s not required by law in Australia.
The Australian marriage laws are actually 90% awesome
That’s what I love about the Australian marriage legislation. It doesn’t require a couple to seek permission from the state to enter into marriage, something almost every other country requires. And when that state deems it ok for them to marry, they are issued a license.
In Australia you automatically have the right to marry if you’re eighteen or over, not already married, not (too) related, and you’re both consenting and willing to enter into a union voluntarily to the exclusion of all others for life.
If you can meet that standard, quite the low standard generally speaking (it’s easier than getting a credit card), and if you can wait a month between deciding to be married and getting married, and finally if you can prove when and where you were born and also your identity then you can get married.
It’s quite beautiful really. Some of the most liberal marriage laws on the planet, except for the gender thing of course.
Why all the fuss, Josh?
On the odd chance that Kylie Minogue’s fiance, Joshua Sasse, reads this, can we change the name of your campaign from “Say ‘I do’ Down Under” to something not steeped in religious and American tradition? I promised I’d try come up with a better name but all I can think of is already taken, so maybe we could just support them? They’re called “Marriage Equality Australia”.
I suppose where I wanted this to end was by saying that Australia has the best marriage laws on the planet, pretty much, with this one slight gender thing. Let’s focus our efforts on that instead of dragging decades of terrible wedding tradition with it.
If we’re going to fight for marriage equality, and in the same breath, fight for marriage (something worth fighting for) let’s know what we’re fighting for. We’re not fighting for a transaction that results in land rights. It’s not a ceremony that allows the couple to run off and have sex afterward. Marriage isn’t even the required vessel for children. Marriage is a union that two intelligent humans engage in, not an archaic ancient meaningless tradition. As we move forward into marriage equality, I think that’s a good step to start on.