The Evolution of Marriage by Ruth Herlihy

What is the definition of marriage? Once again I must apologize for the use of legal jargon and retreat to the reliable definition that was set out my Lord Penzance in Hyde v. Hyde which tells us that marriage is the voluntary and permanent union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others. I decided to look for alternatives to this definition and found that the trusty Oxford Dictionary also was in line with the legal definition. I propose that this definition is outdated and no longer in line with social moral.

I would have agreed that this old-age story was the definition of marriage if I was living in the 1800s and even perhaps I could be forgiven for agreeing with this narrow definition in the 21st century where this is still the accepted definition. However I am now agreeing with Ross Alyward in saying that marriage needs to change from one of form to one of function.

Marriage as set out in the 1800s was voluntary, permanent, monogamous and heterosexual. However this is no longer the case both socially and legally. The definition of marriage was derived from a time where there was one main religion and one main idea in everything. But we no longer live in a society where we see everything black and white. We are open to our views being challenged. We question everything and push ourselves in the hope of discovering new things. We are no longer afraid of the dark and the uncertain.

Since 1996 marriage is no longer permanent. A further sixteen years later I believe that there are further amendments to be made to this definition.

Marriage is no longer given the narrow interpretation that it once was; it is more than a “joint union”. Marriage to me is an expression of commitment and love between two persons regardless of gender. I believe that in 2012 that this is a socially accepted view among my peers and that the definition should be reformed to incorporate every person in society. As it stands now it is in my opinion that the rights of individuals are being infringed and pushed aside. The definition is an issue that needs to be addressed both promptly and correctly.


With the upcoming constitutional convention willing and open to discuss the topical issue of gay marriage, I’m very interested that when it comes down to reforming our constitution will the majority of society be open to an all-inclusive definition of marriage. Personally I believe it is inevitable consequence of the increasing secularisation of society that the definition of marriage will need to be reformed. 


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