What does Senator Leyonhjelm mean?

Senator David Leyonhjelm says he wants to remove any definition of marriage from the Marriage Act. The NSW Liberal Democratic Senator is a radical libertarian who was elected to the Senate at the last federal election. It appears that he plans to use several pieces of legislation to define the Liberal Democrats as a party, different from other political parties.


His first move came with the recent announcement that he was finalising a draft amendment to “deregulate” the Marriage Act.

He said his intention was to remove the Howard government’s definition of marriage as “between a man and a woman”, while ensuring that all marriage celebrants would be able to refuse to be involved in any marriages that would violate their conscience.

His bill is yet to be made public and it’s not clear if he will follow through with a bill to have no definition of marriage, or if he will switch to a bill for same-sex marriage. 

Regardless of which way he jumps, he has laid out his libertarian philosophical reasons for “deregulating marriage. His reasons appear somewhat confused.

Senator Leyonhjelm says that “it is not the job of the government to define relationships” and that “marriage is a private matter between consenting adults … [therefore] the only choice we each need to make is whether to participate [in marriage] and which variety of marriage to embrace.”

In which case, why continue with any limitations on marriage? Why limit marriage to being between two consenting adults only?

If it’s a “private matter” in which governments have no interest, why not abolish the prohibition on polygamy and allow consenting adults to engage in polygamous, polyandrous and polyamorous relationships as well?

After all, keeping a prohibition on polygamy could be construed as discrimination against three or more people wanting to marry?

Indeed, if marriage is a purely “private matter”, then presumably governments have no interest and no business in requiring marriage certificates to record marriages or in requiring birth certificates to record a newborn child as being related to its parents.

Marriage certificates not only record a relationship commitment between a man and a woman, they are a vital legal document, which helps define a range of legal rights and responsibilities. 

These include the legal shared custody of children, the right to shared property and to inheritance.

Birth certificates define a child’s identity, which is based on a child’s relationship with its parents, siblings, grandparents and ancestors. This biological family holds the child’s family genetic and medical history.

Mr Leyonhjelm says that the state has no role in defining relationships, yet the state helps to define and preserve a record of the most vital human relationships... ...through marriage and birth certificates.

Further, based on marriage and birth certificates, the state bestows an array of government benefits such as family tax concessions and family payments, assistance for education and health.

Perhaps as a libertarian wanting no government role defining or favouring any particular forms of relationship, Mr Leyonhjelm may also propose the abolition of family benefits and payments for the education of children.

Indeed, the state has no interest in many relationships, like friendships, but it does have an interest in marriage and children. They are the citizens, taxpayers and future taxpayers of the state who pay Mr Leyonhjelm’s salary and elected him to parliament.

Furthermore, the Marriage Act contains a range of other prohibitions on marriage, which relate to age of marriage, consent, consanguinity and other issues. If Mr Leyonhjelm truly wants to “deregulate marriage”, then presumably he should be looking to repeal both the Marriage Act and the Family Law Act.

Mr Leyonhjelm’s idea of freedom has one saving grace. He says that, “for those who perform marriages, religious or civil, there should be no obligation to marry those of whom they disapprove.”

Given that his legislative intentions are not yet entirely clear, perhaps Mr Leyonhjelm will put forward another same-sex marriage bill. He says that his aim is to force the Liberals to a so-called “conscience vote” on same-sex marriage.