Friday, 14 March 2014

Against Marriage.

"That love and respect may last, I would have unions rare and impermanent. That life may grow, I would have men and women remain separate personalities. Have no common possessions with your lover more than you might freely have with one not your lover. Because I believe that marriage stales love, brings respect into contempt, outrages all the privacies and limits the growth of both parties, I believe that "they who marry do ill"
- Voltairine De Cleyre.

After a long period of elevating marriage to a noble ideal and more recently, uneasy ambivalence,  I am able to declare myself a marriage abolitionist. I am for the end of there being such as thing as a relationship called 'marriage'. For those who already have privilege, It is so needless, so irrelevant. As I examined the pros and cons of marriage, I couldn't find anything to put on the pro side.

So we come to the question. What is marriage for? Why do we need marriage? how does it differ from co-habiting or just plain being in a relationship/relationships?

It seems to me the difference is the status, the  legitimacy, the official authority ,the prestige and privilege granted to it by the state and so imposed upon all of society from the top down.

Historically, marriage  has been a way of controlling women and men by enforcing gender roles, by promoting the gender binary , by pushing a compulsory monogamy, of regulating sex acts, of  regulating the transfer of property, by slavery('forced marriage'),  of keeping the peace between tribes and peoples, of making wife the husbands property, by 'protecting the families honour' as in 'honour killings', of legitimizing rape as 'marital rape'(upheld in England and wales till as recently as 1991), and used  as yet another means of disenfranchising women.

The problematic aspects of marriage are too intricate and too lengthy to detail here and could run to thousands of pages, but let me touch on a few...

Marriage has been used to promote ideas of purity vs defilement with the concept of virginity. Even today the white wedding dress is associated with purity, of being a virgin . 'Losing your virginity' was and is considered a loss ,a disappearance and to do it in a way society disapproves of is to be a 'slut'  yet to not lose it is to be considered to be uptight. Remain a virgin  and you're either shamed or praised as pure. 'lose your virginity' and you're either a 'slut' or one of the in-crowd. In either case bodily autonomy is denied. In this way marriage enables the classic sexist whore/virgin paradigm. It's impossible to win. Marriage is therefore being used to control sexuality with ideas of virginity and purity, of chastity i.e. to promote a  COMPULSORY MONOGAMY.
On this Emma Goldman wrote, "If, however, woman is free and big enough to learn the mystery of sex without the sanction of State or Church, she will stand condemned as utterly unfit to become the wife of a "good" man, his goodness consisting of an empty head and plenty of money. Can there be anything more outrageous than the idea that a healthy, grown woman, full of life and passion, must deny nature's demand, must subdue her most intense craving, undermine her health and break her spirit, must stunt her vision, abstain from the depth and glory of sex experience until a "good" man comes along to take her unto himself as a wife? That is precisely what marriage means. How can such an arrangement end except in failure? This is one, though not the least important, factor of marriage, which differentiates it from love. "

Stopped clock of  Radical Feminism, Sheila Jeffreys is correct when she states  "Abusive practices are maintained and exacerbated by ideologies of ownership and entitlement in some cultures and the well-being of women is undermined by a powerful symbolic act of subordination". In some cultures marriage is a dimension to rape culture functioning to express and to perpetuate male entitlement to women's' bodies and to stand arm in arm with rape.

It's time we did away completely with the concept of virginity as is argued fully in the book, Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World without Rape. The concept of virginity acts to oppress and shame women into having sex they don't desire, to slut shame those who have the kind they do and to imply in a sex act something is lost which ties itself to the concept of purity as if sex is in some sense a defilement. We say virgins are 'sexually pure' but what does that even mean, and why is it desirable.

Even the imagery and symbolism of  'traditional'  weddings are suspect. Clare Chambers states , "Symbolically, the white wedding asserts that women’s ultimate dream and purpose is to marry, and remains replete with sexist imagery: the father “giving away” the bride; the white dress symbolising the bride’s virginity (and emphasising the importance of her appearance); the vows to obey the husband; the minister telling the husband “you may now kiss the bride” (rather than the bride herself giving permission, or indeed initiating or at least equally participating in the act of kissing); the reception at which, traditionally, all the speeches are given by men; the wife surrendering her own name and taking her husband’s."
Marriage can be a way of giving legitimacy to gender roles such as the idea women(and humans in general) exist only to reproduce benefitting capitalism  militarism and the state ( and the subsequent bans on abortion and contraception which follow) and especially to the idea that women exist to be mothers, that it is the epitome of femininity to reproduce which is particularly insulting for those who cannot do so (such as certain trans women) or do not wish to do so. Yet such is the bluster of  certain sections of second wave so called 'Radical Feminism'.

More fundamentally, marriage can be a way of giving legitimacy to the gender binary.  Familiar discussion includes the concept of bride and groom, the best man, the man kissing the bride among others. While not inherently excluding those who are trans, gender queer or non-binary, the discourse surrounding marriage often makes little room for these people.

 Marriage seems to be encouraged aggressive only insofar as it is  useful to the state and capitalism as a way of regulating relationships, of regulating  property transfers, of regulating  bodies, of regulating sexuality, etc.

When the state and capitalism can regulate so as to ensure reproduction, to ensure it knows how property is being used and who gets it, when it has ultimate say- that is when it is best pleased.

 Emma Goldman knew this when she said, "The defenders of authority dread the advent of a free motherhood, lest it will rob them of their prey. Who would fight wars? Who would create wealth? Who would make the policeman, the jailer, if woman were to refuse the indiscriminate breeding of children? The race, the race! shouts the king, the president, the capitalist, the priest. The race must be preserved, though woman be degraded to a mere machine, --- and the marriage institution is our only safety valve against the pernicious sex-awakening of woman. But in vain these frantic efforts to maintain a state of bondage. In vain, too, the edicts of the Church, the mad attacks of rulers, in vain even the arm of the law. Woman no longer wants to be a party to the production of a race of sickly, feeble, decrepit, wretched human beings, who have neither the strength nor moral courage to throw off the yoke of poverty and slavery. "

Marriage makes couples and family units easy to market to, easy to advertise to. Married couples are easy to involve in consumerist consumption and production. You can control them by indebting them to having to provide for wife and kids  (in traditional hetro paradigm) while trying to keep a house.

Marriage is clearly useful to a range of forms of  systematic oppression: To Patriarchy, to Capitalism, To the State, To Militarism, to White Supremacy....
E.P. Thompson once wrote, "Marriage itself is the result of religious, state, and social oppression that established monogamous heterosexual relationships as the prevailing norm of inter-human sexual dynamics. It has been used as a means to control women, sexual deviancy, slaves, and the working class throughout history. It has been one of many state and social tools for centring of the nuclear family and the dismantling of alternative forms of economic and social solidarity through the history of the working class, enforcing standards of decency, ideas of maturity, and the separation of the public and private that helped to extinguish trade union solidarity from its onset."
The worst crime of marriage is it's way of giving legitimacy to certain types of relationship i.e. monogamy and currently heterosexuality, while ignoring or actively excluding or marginalizing  homosexuality, bisexuality, polyamory ,  nonmonogamy, asexuality and queer identities. As one commentator puts it "the state authorizes itself by sanctioning a particular kind of love”.  By it's very existence,marriage comes to be  seen as the highest form of relationship, as the destination point of all relationships. This implies that not getting married means the relationship is somehow less legitimate  less serious less committed less important , that monogamy is the only legitimate form of relationship or the best,  that sex or not having sex within that relationship is less legitimate, that singlehood is the most undesirable state to be in. Marriage is giving legitimation to the nuclear family as if that's the best  kind of family unit and same sex or trans couples shouldn't have children or as if children should ONLY be raised in married families.  Problems of 'bastards' and children born out of wedlock are created by the prominence put on marriage(though thankfully in recent years in the west this has lessened)

Again Goldman saw the absurdity of this in her time ,"But the child, how is it to be protected, if not for marriage? After all, is not that the most important consideration? The sham, the hypocrisy of it! Marriage protecting the child, yet thousands of children destitute and homeless. Marriage protecting the child, yet orphan asylums and reformatories over crowded, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children keeping busy in rescuing the little victims from "loving" parents, to place them under more loving care, the Gerry Society. Oh, the mockery of it!".
  Gay marriage allows the possibility of breaking down marriage's legitimizing of gender roles and the gender binary. Yet   same-sex marriage or even non-binary/ Trans marriage would  still imply marriage is the aim of relationships and gives that form more legitimacy than any others  As is said in the article  The Cynicism of Gay Marriage, "The call to establish gay marriage, therefore, offers a fait accompli to heteronormative control of society that seeks, consciously or unconsciously, to absorb “gay identity” and to rationalise and normalise it within the confines of that heteronormative world view."

Even gay marriage would still exclude from accepting polyamory as legitimate , lead to the assumption that single parents are some how less legitimate and completely exclude trans people(there are currently proposals within Scottish Politics to correct this last point).

 It still grants the state control over transfers of ownership and the like. It still implies children  born into a married couple is the best state of affairs and plants the seeds of prejudice.

As Judith Butler argues, "Thus the bid to gain access to certain kinds of rights and entitlements that are secured by marriage by petitioning for entrance into the institution does not consider the alternative: to ask for a delinking of precisely those rights and entitlements from the institution of marriage itself.”

 Legal  de jure equality is not enough, if it is not de facto equality. Equality must see a substantial change in thought and action otherwise it is just a slogan, dead words on a page, ossified hope. Legal equality only exists in relation to systems of oppression usually offering only  empty promises and is not equality in any real meaningful sense.

While I do not condemn anyone who chooses to get married and do not consider them immoral, I do think the institution is irrelevant or at least, should be irrelevant. I fully understand in the here and now  how marriage can be meaningful to some as  expressions of love and the clear and pressing necessity of fighting for same sex marriage.

But I qualify that, with a concern that mainstream LGBTQ struggle will be solely focused on that fight to the exclusion of all else. The Co-option of LGBTQ struggles by systems of oppression is a deeply troubling trend.The Stonewall riots and Compton Cafeteria Riots were not for better laws and legal equality. Those rebels called for a complete transformation of society. Ultimately that's what it  will take and is the only way to remove it's problematic aspects and  so make marriage irrelevant and unnecessary.

"Love, the strongest and deepest element in all life, the harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful moulder of human destiny; how can such an all-compelling force be synonymous with that poor little State and Church-begotten weed, marriage?"- Emma Goldman.

Palmer Thompson, Edward, The Making of the English Working Class,

 Chambers, Clare. "Recognizing Marriage as a Symbolic Institution"

Voltairine de Cleyre, They Who Marry Do Ill  

Emma Goldman, Marriage and Love .

The Cynicism of Gay Marriage  -

For Further information see

Towards an Anti-Authoritarian Critique of Marriage -


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