In 2021, is marriage still a relevant institution?

Zoya Patel 16 September 2021 36
Wedding party prep

It’s a great excuse for an awesome party, but does marriage have a tangible impact on a relationship’s validity? Photo: Danielle Cleary Events.

When I was growing up in an Indian-Muslim household, marriage was a foregone conclusion for my future.

Of course I would get married, and ideally, it would be to a fellow Indian Muslim, so our shared culture could form the foundation for our relationship.

Today, I am an out-and-proud atheist and have been ‘living in sin’ for the past decade with my non-Indian partner, and my views on marriage have been defined more by what it doesn’t mean to me than by any belief in its value.

I can’t see what impact marriage would have on my relationship in terms of either signifying its validity or formalising our financial obligations to each other. We already own property together, share a bank account for our expenses, and have every intention of being together for the foreseeable future. Like all relationships, we can’t predict what the future will hold, but if we were to break up, we’d have to detangle our enmeshed lives much like a married couple would (though perhaps without the stigma of divorce).


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So as far as I can see, there’s not a measurable difference between our unmarried status and that of our married friends (other than, in almost every case, that we’ve been together for longer).

But the difference lies, it appears, in how people perceive our relationship. Over the past few years, as we enter our 30s, more and more of our friends are getting married. These are people who are fairly unconventional in their social and political views, but the tradition of marriage has remained relevant to them despite most other conventions being discarded early on.

As a cohort, we all espoused anti-establishment views about marriage when we were younger – ‘it’s a patriarchal institution! It symbolised the transfer of ownership of a woman from father to husband! Until marriage equality is a reality for LGBTQIA+ people, I would never get married!’

But one by one, most of my peers have capitulated and gone for the ring as the next milestone on our journey into adulthood.

I love a good wedding celebration, so I’m wholeheartedly excited for my friends when they get married and enjoy coming together to celebrate their relationship with their loved ones. But I don’t know that I see the institution as being about much more than the party. What’s the point, really, beyond having the fun night out and getting dressed up? Does marriage have a tangible impact on a relationship’s validity?


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Based on my experiences, it certainly does when it comes to perceptions.

Recently, in a conversation about my future plans, my father started a sentence with, “I don’t know how serious your relationship is, but …”

This jab is definitely targeted at the fact that I remain unmarried, and it’s obviously largely influenced by our cultural expectations in my family. But it echoed the general vibe we get these days as one of the only unmarried or not-engaged couples in our circles. Personally, I’m ambivalent about whether marriage lies in our future (and my primary hesitation is based on stinginess and not wanting to spend the money on the wedding). However, I find it interesting that it still holds weight in terms of social acceptance of a couple’s relationship.

Why is this? How does a marriage certificate signify a stronger commitment than the internal one we make when we wake up every day and keep choosing to be with our partner? Does it really make a difference in how you think about your relationship once married versus just being in a de facto partnership? I’m genuinely curious – if you’re married, why? And if not, why not?


What's Your Opinion?


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36 Responses to In 2021, is marriage still a relevant institution?
Won’t be fooled again Won’t be fooled again 9:04 am 20 Sep 21

Good article Zoya and good on you for taking your own path. You’re asking the right questions and that is a hell of lot better in this polarised world than pretending one knows all the answers. (Although I’m happily married.)

phydeaux phydeaux 9:02 am 17 Sep 21

” “I don’t know how serious your relationship is, but …”. This jab is definitely targeted…”
Continuing harassment is certainly a contributor to some marriage events, perhaps quite a few. Don’t bother though. Even one’s parents can be educated. 😉
If you want to marry, throw a party, get married between drinks, then forget about it. Spend saved money on something actually useful. Who knows your ceremonial status without being improperly inquisitive, and why should they care?

Acton Acton 6:28 am 17 Sep 21

“Personally, I’m ambivalent about whether marriage lies in our future (and my primary hesitation is based on stinginess and not wanting to spend the money on the wedding). ” I too am repulsed by the obscene amounts of money spent on turning weddings into stage managed performances and spectacles designed to impress others with displays of wealth and Kardashianism rather than love. The best type of weddings should be simple gatherings without extravagence where a loving couple exchange vows to commit to each other in front of family and friends. Keep it simple and it will be beautiful. Spend the money you save on the wedding upon a house.

Mick Andrews Mick Andrews 11:53 pm 16 Sep 21

It does if your partner is very sick or dies. not all legislation has been updated to reflect de facto as equivalent as a legally married spouse.

MERC600 MERC600 6:52 pm 16 Sep 21

Yes well relevant or not, it’s the one of the few times Uncles can get together.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENARMPuU758

Mark Valerius Mark Valerius 2:35 pm 16 Sep 21

I’d have a big shindig and spend heaps on everything at my wedding. Just don’t tell my current wife or she’ll get pissy about it.

Bek Clark Bek Clark 1:24 pm 16 Sep 21

My children are grown and I make my own money. My inner circle are instructed to have me assessed by a mental health practitioner should I decide being a house slave is something I want.

Juliet Lautenbach Juliet Lautenbach 12:39 pm 16 Sep 21

Living together is a private acknowledgement of a long term relationship; marriage is the public acknowledgement of the same thing, plus a declaration that it’s intended to be lifelong.

There’s a different result in the law too - for instance, if Zoya’s partner passed away, his/her birth family would have a much stronger say in how the property is divided up, even if the partner has a legal Will leaving it all to Zoya. De facto is useful, legally, but it certainly isn’t the same as a marriage as the first thing which Zoya would have to do in that situation, is prove the de facto relationship exists.

That may look simple on the surface, but at this point there is written evidence from Zoya’s own family that they do not believe there is a real relationship there. If anything happened to Zoya’s partner, the partner’s family could use this as evidence that Zoya should not inherit.

Marriage gets rid of all that legal uncertainty - so much so, that if Zoya’s marriage partner died without leaving a Will, Zoya would automatically inherit everything (not immediately and the State would take more than if there was a Will, but you get the idea).

Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary 11:17 am 16 Sep 21

Marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman bound together for life until death does them apart.

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Genesis 2:24

    Judy Zilber Judy Zilber 12:27 pm 16 Sep 21

    Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary that may be true in the Church. However, under Australian law marriage is between "two peole" who may not necessarily be "one man and one woman"....

    Ezekiel Chalmers Ezekiel Chalmers 7:50 am 17 Sep 21

    I always thought it was weird that hardcore religious people opposed something that wasn't mentioned in the Bible, but ignore heaps of things that that are specifically prohibited in the Bible.

    Nick Beaton Nick Beaton 8:00 am 17 Sep 21

    Ezekiel Chalmers please, enlighten me with examples - and may I just add that, as Catholic, Sola Scriptura (only scripture) is considered heresy?

    Ezekiel Chalmers Ezekiel Chalmers 8:07 am 17 Sep 21

    You know, maybe the Protestants have that one right; if the scripture isn't accurate enough that you should follow it, maybe you shouldn't follow it at all.

    I'm just going to start by pointing at Leviticus. People cite the clobber passages pretty regularly, but still shave and eat rabbit and shellfish, and work on Saturdays.

    Kathleen Beck Kathleen Beck 11:01 am 17 Sep 21

    Jesus also says in Matthew do not add or take from the law until certain things are accomplished, Paul's covenant is adding. It's total hypocrisy

Capital Retro Capital Retro 11:11 am 16 Sep 21

As one who did not vote for same-sex marriage the institution of marriage is still a vey relevant institution for me.

Given that the vast majority of Canberrans voted in favour of SSM I conclude that majority no longer values it.

    Mikey Moore Mikey Moore 1:30 pm 16 Sep 21

    What an awfully condescending conclusion to draw.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 6:05 pm 16 Sep 21

    Twenty years ago I would have said “sorry you feel that way about it” but I won’t now as all I get is abuse for expressing my opinion about something that is repugnant about SSM.

    At least you were civil in rejecting my opinion.

    franky22 franky22 6:25 pm 16 Sep 21

    Yes condescending and patronising. But hey nobody gives a rats about his opinion.

    JS9 JS9 11:55 pm 16 Sep 21

    Surely its no longer relevant, given it doesn’t reflect what ever lala lands your beliefs were originally made up in?

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:57 am 17 Sep 21

    I hope you re-visit your comments when you are old, in poor health and have no one to love and care for you.

Vanessa Brown Vanessa Brown 10:19 am 16 Sep 21

Marriage is a lovely institution if it is with the right person.

Penelope Rose Penelope Rose 9:55 am 16 Sep 21

Marriage looks to be about the wedding day these days, having a circus/social media wedding to post pics, its all for show and to impress the guests and keep up with the Joneses. Not my idea of a marriage. I would elope, something simple but special. Its about the two peoples promise on that one day that they continue on with day in day out, not the three ring circus wedding on that one day.

Henry Kivimaki Henry Kivimaki 9:38 am 16 Sep 21

The covenant still remains sacred and holy even if a society or a generation desecrates the institution.

Alisha Dziemiach Alisha Dziemiach 9:10 am 16 Sep 21

Marriage these days isn’t about marriage or commitment it’s about the wedding DAY. The dress. The bride. The flowers. The scenery etc.

Samuel Gordon-Stewart Samuel Gordon-Stewart 9:05 am 16 Sep 21

If I was to ever get married (which seems unlikely given I have no interest in being in a relationship with anyone) it would in my mind be an important symbol of lifelong irrevocable commitment to the other person under the authority of God. I am of the view that marriage is solely a religious matter and government should not be involved in it in any way.

To me, it would not be a party either. It would occur at 10am on a weekday with no more than a dozen guests, followed by coffee and cake and a few words, and everyone out the door before midday. And no special dressing up either. Come as you are. Marriage should be about real people not glammed up portrayals of them.

John Garvey John Garvey 8:14 am 16 Sep 21

Marriage is about money, property and inheritance. That certificate makes many things much easier for partners, gaining access to govt programs and tax rules.

    Tan Roy Tan Roy 10:01 am 16 Sep 21

    John Garvey a legal document drawn up by a lawyer is cheaper and just as effective. People get married with good intentions and the hope of staying together for life, the reality in this day and age is different. Any couple in a relationship should secure their assets, not just married couples.

    John Garvey John Garvey 11:15 am 16 Sep 21

    Tan Roy A legal document drawn up by a lawyer doesn’t get you tax or welfare benefits. You either need a marriage certificate, or you need to jump through multiple hoops to prove a de-facto marriage.

    Ruth Wathen Ruth Wathen 11:41 am 16 Sep 21

    John still a romantic I see.

    Tan Roy Tan Roy 12:50 pm 16 Sep 21

    John Garvey getting married for tax purposes etc is not a good idea. Living together as a de-facto relationship is legally accepted and accepted by Centrelink and for tax purposes. To prove a de-facto relationship is easy if you have a lease in both names, bills in both names or even a bank account with both names. Marriage is an outdated institution and one I left after being miserable for 20 years, it was due to being married my children and I were stuck in hell

    John Garvey John Garvey 1:14 pm 16 Sep 21

    Tan Roy well I am and I’m not miserable, so perceptions differ. In your post you actually describe some of the hoops you need to jump though to prove a de-facto marriage. All I do is show the certificate. For most of us it isn’t really an issue, but for others it can be a nightmare to gain access to a deceased spouses superannuation, bank accounts, government records, services, etc. You may be right that the institution is outdated, but it is one heavily imbedded in our legal and social framework, and unlikely to be abolished anytime soon.

    Tan Roy Tan Roy 1:16 pm 16 Sep 21

    John Garvey getting married to save paperwork, not a good enough reason in my books.

Leslie Henshaw Leslie Henshaw 7:44 am 16 Sep 21

I feel now that it is more the ultimate gesture of commitment to your partner that you make in front of those that you love. As far as the legal and financial stuff goes once you have been living together for 6 months or more you are de facto and you become financially bound to each other, on the flip side of that you can also be married and have a BFA (binding financial agreement) which protects you from being bound financially. To me marriage is more of a gesture. However it is relevant if you want to start a family and all have the same names I guess?

    James Fellows James Fellows 7:56 am 16 Sep 21

    Probably cheaper and faster to change names, kids get names you write on the form.

    John Garvey John Garvey 8:11 am 16 Sep 21

    Changing names after marriage is only custom. It’s not compulsory. Many married women don’t change their name. And in many cultures it’s not even a thing.

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