Can Marriage Survive Secularization?

23 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2015 Last revised: 5 Oct 2016

Date Written: October 8, 2015


In many countries, including the United States and Australia, the law of marriage has now been divorced from its Judaeo-Christian heritage and given a secular meaning. Can marriage itself survive this process of secularization? The Article explores the drift away from marriage as the basis for family formation and child-rearing in Europe, North America and South America and the weakening of the marriage contract in law. It goes on to examine the laws concerning the solemnization of marriage and the differences (if any) between marriage and other family forms in a number of jurisdictions. These laws are explored by evaluating the options for family formation that are available to a young couple in Amsterdam, London, Edinburgh, Melbourne and Washington DC.

The conclusion is that the law governing the entry into (and exit from) marriage is losing much of its coherence and purpose. While marriage will continue to be important to people of faith and in certain cultures, civil marriage will gradually become little more than a means of registration of intimate partnerships. This will occur because the secular State lacks any convincing narrative about what marriage is, and any justification for having a marriage celebrant who represents the authority of the State.

Keywords: Family law, marriage, secularization, cohabitation, comparative law, celebrant

JEL Classification: K10, K30

Suggested Citation

Parkinson, Patrick, Can Marriage Survive Secularization? (October 8, 2015). University of Illinois Law Review, Vol. 2016, No. 4, pp. 1749-1770, 2016; Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 15/89. Available at SSRN:

Patrick Parkinson (Contact Author)

University of Queensland ( email )

Forgan Smith Building
The University of Queensland
St Lucia, Queensland 4072

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics