Rainbow Coloured Broccoli
Marriage and serving the public interest

People who say that marriage is to serve the public interest by ensuring that children are raised by two parents … are actually half right, but not in the way they think they are.

You see, historically, women weren’t allowed to work and had few employment prospects. This was especially true if they had young children—there weren’t any mechanisms for childcare and she had little prospect of marrying. As a result, a mother without a husband often had to fall back on charity to live. This often meant begging a church to help her feed herself and her children.

Obviously, the churches didn’t like that, so they encouraged marriage as a union “for life” to ensure that a man didn’t knock a woman up without taking responsibility for any children that resulted. It was about ensuring that women’s and children’s interests were protected and about ensuring that those outside the family (churches and the government) weren’t left to support those abandoned by their husbands/fathers.

Basically, marriage was about ensuring that children and their caregivers were supported economically. Now, if we apply that to a modern context, this idea can be phrased in gender-neutral terms. If a spouse stays at home with the children, the interests of that spouse should be protected. It should also be recognised that any spouse working outside the home is working to help support a family unit and not just himself or herself. We can tie this to the legal protections offered to families—from tax benefits during the life of the marriage to property settlements, child support and spousal support when it’s over.

And—this is the important thing—this idea isn’t just confined to families headed by a heterosexual couples. It applies equally to families headed by two men or two women, who deserve the same level of protection.

So, when anyone says that same-sex marriage shouldn’t be allowed because marriage is about serving a particular interest of society? They should look at history a little more closely to learn just what that interest is.

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