That is quite a bold and categorical statement. It is also of fundamental importance, espcially when you remember CEM Joad's dictum, made famous on The Brains Trust, "It depends what you mean by ..."
That there is "no legal definition of marriage" may, furthermore, come as surprise to the Coalition For Marriage, who have been asking people to sign a petition that says, "I support the legal definition of marriage which is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. I oppose any attempt to redefine it."
That's pretty stupid when there's no such thing as a "legal definition".
Except that it seems there is. Or at least, there may be - it all depends what you mean by a "legal definition".
A quick 'Google' of the definition shows that it goes back to James Wilde, First Baron of Penzance, who in 1866 presided in the polygamy case of Hyde vs Hyde and Woodmansee. His ruling gave a definition of marriage in the terms now quoted:
What, then, is the nature of this institution as understood in Christendom?...If it be of common acceptance and existence, it must needs have some pervading identity and universal basis. I conceive that marriage, as understood in Christendom, may for this purpose be defined as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.Accordingly, this has been the accepted 'definition'. However, it is precisely his use of the term 'Christendom' which has caused some to question its acceptability.
Thus, in a paper published in 2007, Rebecca Probert of the University of Warwick presciently asks whether this is actually a definition of marriage, or rather "a defence of a traditional Christian model of marriage, which has been invoked whenever that model is under threat?"
Specifically, she considers whether the demand for same-sex marriage ought not to lead to "a more accurate definition of marriage for the twenty-first century".
And we all know the government's answer to that one, don't we?
So it all comes down to whether this is a definition of marriage or just a Christian definition of marriage (or indeed, what the government now seems to be working with, which is a variety of 'definitions' of marriage, one of which is the Christian definition - a form of 'religious' definition, yet to be defined in law - over against a civil marriage, which is something else, yet to be defined at all.)
I suppose the only other question we should ask is why a government document contains such a slipshod and misleading statement at the heart of its proposals - but perhaps that is a bit much to ask from them in this day and age.
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