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Essay: Family Law and Civil Union Partnerships - Status, Contract and Access to Symbols

19 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2006 Last revised: 10 Aug 2012

Graeme W. Austin

Victoria University of Wellington


This essay locates New Zealand's civil union legislation within the dynamic between status and contract that animates modern family law. Status concerns who we are; contract concerns the transactions we can enter. Because family law is concerned with affective relationships, it cannot apprehend people only as the atomised individuals anticipated by the modernist emphasis on contractual relations. Family law acknowledges the relevance to legal issues of messy issues of personality. Among the most complex and powerful aspects of personality with which the law concerns itself is love. Love affects who we are and law affects what love can be. Law provides and constrains the symbolic repertoire that helps organise the way we think about our affective relationships. The enactment of civil union legislation was an enormously positive step. However, by continuing to deny homosexuals the ability to marry, the New Zealand state persists in denying homosexuals a key part of the symbolic repertoire that is relevant to the way people in love can conceptualise their relationships. The transactions the state permits us to enter, particularly transactions that are expressions of love, affect the construction of our identities, illustrating once again the deep links that exist between who we are and the contracts we can enter.

Keywords: Family Law, Gay, Lesbian

Suggested Citation

Austin, Graeme W., Essay: Family Law and Civil Union Partnerships - Status, Contract and Access to Symbols. Victoria University Wellington Law Review, Vol. 37, p. 183, 2006; Arizona Legal Studies Discussion Paper No 06-24; Victoria University of Wellington Legal Research Paper No. 35/2012. Available at SSRN:

Graeme W. Austin (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, 6140
New Zealand


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