Hard News by Russell Brown


Who else forgot to get married?

The latest figures from Statistics New Zealand say that a the number of New Zealand children born outside formal marriage is now almost equivalent to the number born in wedlock and, according to Fairfax, "debate is raging over what it will mean for society."

More particularly, Bob McCoskrie says the new numbers are a "warning light on the dashboard."

It would be an odd day when when I allowed myself to be morally judged by the likes of Bob McCoskrie, but it strikes me that, as a relatively early adopter of the practice of having children outside wedlock (1991 styles), I can't recall ever really being judged for doing so. At least not to my face.

Our unwed status does not stem from any Marxist-feminist analysis of family structure. I enjoy a good wedding when someone else is having it. We were just so busy making lives that we basically forgot to get married. And within my peer group, forgetting to get married has not been particularly unusual.

Some of our friends eventually wed, others have managed to forge loving, enduring relationships and family lives without ever doing so. My only real regret is having deprived our mums of the something they expected to be part of their lives, but I know they're wise enough to value other things more than a wedding ceremony.

We're fortunate enough to have had the law change to meet our needs, and by the time we went to get a mortgage from the bank, banks were no longer demanding that couples get married as a condition of a loan (this happened to someone I know). Schools are so used to double-barrelled surnames now that the kids with just the one surname sometimes seem to lack adornment.

The only real issue is what we call each other: "partner" can be an ambiguous word. Sometimes it is easier to acquiesce to the use of the word "wife" when dealing with tradespeople or call centres. I don't really mind doing that. It's less bother than correcting people.

I'm frequently struck by what seems to be a revival of formal marriage -- including of course, the recent triumphant opening of marriage to same-sex couples -- and also frankly bemused by the spectacle of women adopting their husband's surname (is this practice staging a comeback?). But, you know, its been fine doing otherwise. And if it aggravates Bob Coskrie, that really is a bonus.

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