Marriage, in the traditional formalised sense, is something that has never sat well with me.

Why should I need the blessing of a church I don't believe in and a state I consider uncaring to sanctify my love?

Instead I've had three significant relationships which I think of as marriages, as did my partners, and while two may have ended messily, that's no different from a formal divorce - which there are an awful lot of, regardless.

Besides, the law these days makes little distinction between a long-term de facto couple, a civil union, and a marriage. So why go to all the expense and palaver of a marriage when it makes no real difference?

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Ultimately, for my wife and I, for just that reason; we'd come to the point where the "form" of things no longer mattered, so felt free to do as we liked.

Making a great surprise party when no one (including the bride) is expecting it lent impetus for it to happen.

See, having organised a gathering of family and close friends to mark what we saw as a significant anniversary, it merely required a bit of sleight-of-hand and some surreptitious arrangement to turn it into a marriage ceremony - and luckily I managed to pull it off; and she said yes.

So Linda, my companion of 25 years standing, is now formally my wife, and if it's a bit self-indulgent to write about that, well, so be it.

Bottom line: we had a hell of a lot of fun.

Which is what really counts. This greed-driven nuclear-family-oriented society of ours doesn't do "fun" well. We struggle to celebrate - in the true sense of that word - our most important human events: birth, death, sex, love.

We let religion, and race, and money, and pride and prejudice of all sorts get in the way.

We follow outdated forms and restrictive practices that bind us to rote models and methods of behaviour, instead of simply allowing ourselves to be free to express both joy and sorrow in all their colours, in whatever way we need to.

Of course many people don't have the freedoms we here in New Zealand enjoy. Even our nearest neighbour, Australia, does not yet allow same-sex marriage - which is why our good friends Victor and Jim, a couple for longer than us, combined their visit with a legal marriage ceremony of their own.

Contrast that with Chechnya, where homophobic hysteria has resulted in gay people being rounded up and tortured until they reveal names of other gays; their eventual fate is anyone's guess.

Elsewhere people cannot even question their religion, or speak against their rulers, or dare to step outside the strict prescriptions that govern dress and status and social interaction, without facing violence that may result in maiming or death.

In comparison, working to relax rules that seek to define the length of a schoolboy's hair or a girl's skirt, or whether a man wears a tie or a woman shows a tattoo, seem small beer.

But every such fight, on whatever part of the scale, is all about that most basic of human rights: individual freedom of choice.

As the world lurches backward into repressive regimes in the US and Europe, we here in Aotearoa would do well to remind ourselves how much we stand to lose if we sheepishly fall in behind any New Moral Order.

The freedom not only to choose who and how we marry, but to openly celebrate that choice, is a hard-won but fragile thing. We owe it to our children to make sure it is a certainty, as all such choices should be.

■ Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.