Down with marriage...

By Michael J. Smith on Saturday June 9, 2012 09:08 PM

... gay or otherwise.

I don't mean cohabitation, of course: the fragrant familiar head on the neighboring pillow, the near-telepathy of a glance exchanged, the shared child-breeding and child-herding, should you be that way inclined.

Nor do I mean the marriage rites: the priestly stole around the wrists, the vows, the ceremonial kiss, the raunchy humor of the toasts. The honeymoon, bless it.

What I mean is marriage as a legal institution -- a thing in which the state inexplicably has an interest.

What is that about? I'm sure it's been written of. But for those of us who think old Dr Karl was on the right track -- that the State is just an emanation of class relations -- what are we to make of this bizarrely elaborated institution, with its special body of law, its rigid protocols as to the gender and number, if not tense and aspect, of people who can be married? Why on earth were the Mormons so persecuted for polygamy? What good does all this folderol do for the capitalists? Isn't it quite simply all cost?

The institution has a long history, of course. In antiquity it seems to have mediated or articulated alliances among clans. In the early Middle Ages, among the common folk, it seems to have been little regarded; even the Church took hardly any notice. Then the custom arose of having marriages blessed at the church door; later the ceremony moved into the church itself; and finally you get the top-heavy legal apparatus of marriage, divorce, annulment and so on, for everybody from king to stableboy, enforced at first by the Church as a kind of state franchise, and now directly by the state itself, with the unspeakable horrors of divorce court and something called, with grim humor, Family Court, at least in this high-minded blue state.

Cui bono? Who exactly benefits from all this superstructure? I'm baffled.

Comments (19)

Who benefits?

Think of what would happen if number was no bar. All those familial-sodalities come with loyalty.

Meh. Wasn't trying to be so cryptic.

Way I see it: the old fighting unions, the reds, the Bakunists, the Catholic and Southern European anarchists - all these folks were produced by large extended families, often sharing large, communally made homes built to (a) fit the land and (b) house multiple generations. The people emerging from these conditions already understood, emotionally and without the need for linguistic preparation and formal education, how to be loyal to a larger group of people.

The nuclear family, on the other hand, is a creature of law, created by tax codes and legal statute, reinforced in churches and buttressed by public education. The nuclear family is isolated, atomized and always desperate. As a product, it does not perform as advertised. It is inadequate to the task assigned to it. It consequently produces isolated and atomized people who perceive of life not as joy, sharing and community, but as debt, deprivation and competition. The nuclear family shapes (with tremendous outside pressure) the individual as solipsistic aggressor/parasite, because the nuclear family cannot meet its basic programming (the production of healthy persons) without savaging its members, or teaching them to survive by savaging others.

Or something like that.

Yes, how many divisions would the Hatfields and McCoys have?

I remember an old Tom Tomorrow cartoon with a marriage proposal. It was just one panel, and the line was something like "Will you let the state endorse our love?"

Didn't marriage in Europe use to essentially be a purchase of property?

Mr. Crow, what about marriage in other cultures? It's a pretty common arrangement; does it seem to have the same functions there?


A ticklish question of protocol or a mission to civilize?

As they say, "It's the economy, stupid." Marriage provides a state-backed contract with standardized terms for economic co-investment. Our marriage policies are a tax-base subsidization of this event, similar to the way we subsidize markets through the provisioning of contract-enforcing courts.

Consider Gay Marriage and Gay Marriage for Cash.


Marriage is fairly universal; family type and size aren't. And I'm not singing a paean to the extended family as production facility for virtuous youth, for what it's worth. Just that it produces people who are quantifiably distinct from those produced by the bourgeois nuclear family.

Al Schumann:

The nuclear family sells a lot appliances, consumer electronics, cars and suburban development. The marketing plays right into the corporate millenarian mindset. It's a moneymaker and that, I believe, was the whole intent.


The wedding industry is quite impressive and ravenous too: the caterers, the dress makers, the magazines, the consultants, the venues...the books that scare the shit out of you regarding all of the above..

Jack Crow is on to something here. Besides all the what we might call socially unnecessary spending the nuclear family necessitates, it does indeed create people with a stunted outlook. When we have an successful organizing drive at our workplace, you will here workers say that their coworkers are a family, one in which large numbers show solidarity and, if you will, love, with one another. We want this, more than anything, but our social arrangements make us act all too often in ways that make this impossible.

I love it when on one of the TV shows, the bride, who has just had her family spend tens of thousands of borrowed dollars for a wedding, say that this will be the best day of her life. Indeed,it might well be. Or the couple out buying a house, demanding a huge kitchen, though no one will cook, and four bedrooms, though there will be no children.

Peter Ward:

I guess, marriage is a legacy institution that has been shoe-horned to fit, quite nicely, the contemporary mode of capitalism. There's great profit potential, especially from the suburban, commuter family, as Al notes, but the institution, in some forms--e.g., as a means to "marry into" status and wealth--was antecedent to the four bedroom prefab, washing machine, station wagon and hi-fi owing nuclear family.

I agree with Jack that society is highly atomized, but I'm not sure that was the intent in this case as much as a happy side-effect.


Jack Crow's comments are illuminating. But MJS is right on, as well. The libs and progs have been duped into seeing 'more' government eagle-eyeying as something great. The real issue is to get the government out of 'regular' marriage.


Gay marriage, gays-in-the-military: pwogwess.

anne shew:

of a comment that i left this evening on io z's .. ... butter post " 8, 18 , .... ? said going from the bottom up through the comments here .. just in from away(more wooded, undone ) .. , but stuck on that .... ,said .." .. a question to chomskyzinn and op , who came first the chicken or the egg .. ?

anne shew:

and now that shew is a shoe .. of a singular.. to the pair ..of coupling .. . , thoughts now of the exceptionally .. , and odd .. of singulars

Al Schumann:

All the grandiose proprieties have a parasitic enforcement and pathological mediation superstructure. It looks like a jobs and corporate welfare programs for social cretins; infantile fantasists who experience regular psychotic breaks over the "moral failings" of others, but retain enough mental wherewithal to extract a profit from the tragedies and horrors they create. The War on Drugs might be the most blatant example. Extravagant violence and sickly sweet sanctimony go hand in hand.

anne shew:

morning , she looks in again .. . in ( h)er change of the motion for (h)er hand (left, worth noting here .. ) .. , breaks from doodling.. to flutters in reading ,in.. to look again at this not familiar of stop me.. ,and of those commenting .. , , wondering if this al with his ..All the grandiose proprieties of the proprietor , superstructures, was one of the many passing of fleeting , incidental folks, as sh e was being pooled from one of a brother's grandioses, yes some plural of effect , of superstructures like no others .. to another.. at some point in the last few days , as i now retrace with my mind as i do the enforced meditation of there and here .. .

el mago:

Marriage? That is a legal institution, and why it is necessary for the state to legitimize relationships is baffling. Yeah, if you buy into it, then guess you reap the inevitable fall out. So, live with your boyfriend/boyfriend/girlfriend/boyfriend,and if you need a license and ceremony to do so, you're already a victim--a victim of the state, and a victim of your own folly for buying into the system. There's nothing sacred about it, but you know, it makes money for the marriage industry, and at the end of the day you can feel sanctimonious for participating, until it all turns to shit.

Jersey Patriot:

Marriage simplifies a lot of property and power of attorney issues. Who gets the property if someone dies? Who has the power to make decisions if something destroys the will of a person? A lot of people don't think of these things in advance, so marriage sets a "default" option: "the spouse". You're allowed to make other arrangements, but there's a default one if you don't.

Before DNA testing, marriage was also a way to assure the legitimacy of children. The husband was assumed to be the father, and paternity was not questioned. With DNA testing and rampant bastardy, that function is falling away.

Marriage signals commitment. Intentionally making it difficult and costly to dissolve a relationship is a way of saying, "I mean it with this person." You can, of course, be committed without marriage, or uncommitted in marriage, but marriage is a powerful signal of commitment.

Post a comment

Note also that comments with three or more links may be held for "moderation" -- a strange term to apply to the ghost in this blog's machine. Seems to be a hard-coded limitation of the blog software, unfortunately.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on Saturday June 9, 2012 09:08 PM.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Creative Commons License

This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered by
Movable Type 3.31