An Anarchist Response to The Sanctity of Marriage Debate
December 2004 (Revised edition)
The popular notion about marriage and love is that they are synonymous, that they spring from the same motives, and cover the same human needs. Like most popular notions this also rests not on actual facts, but on superstition. Emma Goldman, Marriage and LoveThe hue and cry that has been raised by patriarchal monotheists over Gay Marriage belies the real truth about marriage. A veritable united front of Christians (all 57 varieties), Jews, Moslems and sects such as Mormons, have been denouncing the Canadian Supreme Court ruling that declared Provincial marriage acts as discriminatory, because the existing law did not provide for homosexual couples, only heterosexual couples.
The vast right wing media monopoly in Canada has joined in denouncing the government for attempting to change the law in Canada to recognize Gay Marriage. The federal Conservative Party and its provincial counterpart; the Alberta Government, have declared their opposition to gay marriage.
And what is this common cause between the Church and State in opposing Gay Marriage, ah well there’s the rub. It’s all about the “Sanctity” of Marriage, a sacred act between a man and a woman, declared so by some holy book or other. And if this piece of historical revisionism wasn’t enough to convince you, then the opponents of Gay Marriage declare that marriage is all about the family, having children, the family as you know is the very basis of society, or at least the health of the State.
As a wise woman once said; “the truth shall set you free”, and the truth is Marriage is about property and chattel slavery, it’s supposed sacredness is the cloth of oppression that obscures this horrible
Yes I did say chattel slavery, for Marriage began before the advent of the Jewish, Christian or Islamic faith. Marriage was the property law of the Greek and Roman Empires, it allowed men to own women, children and slaves as possessions, including taking possession of their names and their property.
The family was key to the formation of both the Greek and Roman states. The family is the state, as much as it is community and society. The formal family is defined by law, laws being needed to legitimate ‘property relations’, as opposed to moral customs which define and legitimate interpersonal relations.
The original meaning of the word "family" (familia) is not that compound of sentimentality and domestic strife which forms the ideal of the present-day philistine; among the Romans it did not at first even refer to the married pair and their children, but only to the slaves. Famulus means domestic slave, and familia is the total number of slaves belonging to one man.
Fredrick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
The current hue and cry about marriage is a defense of an institution founded on slavery and reformed in the 19th Century into what we know today as the nuclear family; dad, mom and the kids.
From ancient times, and in other cultures and societies, the family was communal, in fact it was the village, hence the axiom “it takes a village to raise a child”. This is still true today in many aboriginal cultures. The customs of marriage, rather than its legal existence, vary through time and space of human history. There is NO one form of marriage.
For anarchists we believe that love should be the condition of companionship, and that love is free, not subject to state or church recognition. In fact it is the recognition of common law, or custom versus legal sanction. This is known as Free Love.
Free Love was the harbinger of feminism in the 19th and early 20th Century, its advocates were feminist socialists like Victoria Woodhull, Stella Browne, Emma Goldman, and Alexandra Kollanti.
It was the bane of church and middle class morality of its day. Today with the liberalization of social relations, the acceptance of no fault divorce and common law relations and even birth control, we forget that these were the social outrages of a mere 40 years ago, and the social improprieties and moral turpitude of the past century. The social outrage of editorialists, church leaders and politicians, was heaped on the advocates of Free Love. Today it is this same outrage that vents against Gay Marriage.
Contrary to the assertions of the radical right, and the fundamentalist religious types of all patriarchal denominations, we as libertarian socialists, need to reaffirm the principles of Free Love. Marriage is NOT sacred it is a property relationship that oppresses women. All relations should be civil unions between consenting adults, not a special relationship recognized by the Church and State.
Marriage is a property relationship, and we have yet to hear the Canadian left criticize the statements coming out that make it somehow a sacred ancient institution of the church-state. Have we failed to read our Engels or Emma Goldman?
Religion, especially the Christian religion, has condemned woman to the life of an inferior, a slave. It has thwarted her nature and fettered her soul, yet the Christian religion has no greater supporter, none more devout, than woman. Indeed, it is safe to say that religion would have long ceased to be a factor in the lives of the people, if it were not for the support it receives from woman. The most ardent churchworkers, the most tireless missionaries the world over, are women, always sacrificing on the altar of the gods that have chained her spirit and enslaved her body.
Emma Goldman, Woman Suffrage
Anarchists do not support church state sanctioned Marriage and therefore do not believe that gay marriage is any less oppressive than straight marriage. As radicals we advocate free love relations, relations freely entered into by people under common law without need of the recognition of the church, mosque, temple or State.
That being said it is clear that the state can't have it both ways it can't have civil unions for some and marriage for others. Does this mean we support the institution of church/state marriage? Not at all, free love unions should be seen as civil/common law relations, with full benefits that heterosexual couples have. It has taken many years for the Canadian State to recognize common law relations between heterosexuals and then only for the taxes it brings in.
All marriage relations are property relations, even common law, and are recognized as such based on the necessity of taxation by the state. Where they are religious, they condemn women to the continuation of oppression by patriarchal men. There is no sacredness in such institutional slavery.
Pierre Elliot Trudeau said that the State had no place in the bedrooms of the nation. He legalized sexual relations between consenting adult’s even gay and lesbian relations, back in 1968. This was done before the Stonewall riots in the United States! The fact is that the Canadian liberal social democratic state and its Supreme Court, having ruled in favour of women’s privacy regarding abortion, would naturally recognize the significance of the Trudeau law as paving the way for gay marriage in Canada.
The inequalities of property among the individual heads of families break up the old communal household communities wherever they had still managed to survive, and with them the common cultivation of the soil by and for these communities. The cultivated land is allotted for use to single families, at first temporarily, later permanently. The transition to full private property is gradually accomplished, parallel with the transition of the pairing marriage into monogamy. The single family is becoming the economic unit of society.
Fredrick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
The provincial Supreme Courts in Canada have taken the position that the state cannot define marriage as limited to only heterosexual couples it has secularized marriage to mean any two people. This does not change the relationship from its bourgeois form it merely expands the private property relationship engendered in bourgeois marriage to now include gay and lesbian couples.
Should the Supreme Court in Canada and the US allow for Gay Marriage? Absolutely as it recognizes this as a common right anything less would be discrimination and an injustice. As long as the state denies some of its citizens the benefits of marriage as a tax-based institution, then it is discrimination.
But free love unions are common law, in that the church or state does not sanctify them. Free love common law relations are freely entered into by lovers/comrades/companieros and are not formally recognized by the state, though after a period of time the Canadian state and its tax department will recognize those relations if they are declared.
We must continue to oppose marriage as an institutional form of oppression, instead we must promote the free association of lovers.
Down with all forms of patriarchal marriage!
Only a true libertarian communism, antiauthoritarian and antistatist, would be capable of promoting the definitive and concomitant emancipation of the homosexual and of the individual exploited or alienated by capitalism.
Daniel Guerin, Homosexuality and Revolution.
As of this date, December 2004, the Supreme Court has ruled as expected, upholding the provincial court rulings because the Federal government did NOT appeal them. It further stated that same sex marriages were allowed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Therefore we expect the government to bring in a bill in January to this effect.
Ralph Klein the opportunist premier of Alberta was slapped down by the Supreme Court (again), but that has not stopped him from refusing this basic civil right. Playing to the right wing religious social conservatives, he has made the gay marriage issue his personal political whipping boy. Of course if ordered by the Federal State to comply his sturm and drang will turn out to be no more than a bluster of hot (Southern Alberta) air.
Conservatives are not in the least mistaken when they speak in general terms of Revolutionists as enemies of religion, the family and property. Yes; Socialists do reject the authority of dogma and the intervention of the supernatural in nature, and, in this sense however earnest their striving for the realization of their ideal, they are the enemies of religion.
Yes; they do desire the suppression of the marriage market; they desire that unions should be free, depending only on mutual affection and respect for self and for the dignity of others, and, in this sense, however loving and devoted to those whose lives are associated with theirs, they are certainly the enemies of the legal family.
Yes; they do desire to put an end to the monopoly of land and capital, and to restore them to all, and, in this sense, however glad they may be to secure to every one the enjoyment of the fruits of the earth, they are the enemies of property.
A perfect union? Marriage has seen many makeovers
The push to allow gays to wed is just the latest of many social forces that have reshaped matrimony
By Ron Grossman
Tribune staff reporter
Published February 29, 2004
When President Bush last week pronounced marriage "the most fundamental institution of civilization," he was in good company--at least rhetorically. That link has been proclaimed every time marriage has gone through changes, as it has frequently done throughout history.
The Roman statesman Cicero held that "the primary bond of society is marriage," suggesting an immutable institution. In fact, it has always been shaped by social currents, sometimes progressive, but often not.
Through the ages, the institution of marriage has been unfair to women, has banned the union of people of different races or religions, and has typically been far more concerned with property rights than romantic love--a very modern notion.
Now, as gay marriage has ballooned into a major issue of the presidential campaign, historians and voters alike are reflecting on an institution that truly is a foundation stone of society--for better and for worse.
"Since the 19th Century, people have treated family and marriage as the litmus test of society," said Michael Grossberg, an Indiana University professor who submitted a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of several historians to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, whose ruling in favor of gay marriage triggered the national debate.
"Those who fear social change see any change in marriage and the family as a disaster," Grossberg said.
Ironically, the most enduring aspects of marriage tend to be the very opposite of those qualities its most vocal defenders associate with it. Romance, companionship, the warmth of family life, were rarely connected with marriage until recent times. In the beginning, it was chiefly an economic institution.
An engagement party in ancient Greece was a commercial transaction, said Marilyn Yalom in "A History of the Wife." "It was essentially an oral contract, made between the man who gave the woman in marriage--usually her father--and the bridegroom," Yalom wrote. "The bride was not present."
In this country, the conception of marriage as a transaction between father-in-law and son-in-law meant a woman went from being economically dependent on her father to the same status vis-a-vis her husband. Under a legal theory called "coverture," the married pair became one--the husband.
American wives couldn't own property--even that which they inherited from their parents--until various states gave them the right between 1839 and 1887. Before then, even the wages a working wife earned belonged not to her but her husband.
Husbands could physically discipline their wives, as long as they used what was euphemistically called "moderate correction." If that, or anything else, prompted women to leave home, their husbands would advertise the fact in newspapers, right alongside the ads Southern plantation owners placed for the return of runaway slaves.
`A state of slavery'
The U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) was loath to tamper with that tradition of the man as lord and master of the household as late as 1911, when it rejected the idea that a wife could sue an abusive husband. The justices called the very thought "revolutionary," "radical and far reaching."
Little wonder then, that the 19th Century abolitionist and feminist leader Lucy Stone said, "Marriage is to woman a state of slavery."
And although clerics and statesmen praised marriage's civilizing virtues, the institution wasn't always available to all Americans.
Black Americans couldn't be legally married in the antebellum South. The idea was seen as threatening to slavery, upon which the region's economy depended. Even long after the Civil War, blacks and whites couldn't marry each other in many states. In the Western states, where anti-immigrant fever was high, Asians and whites were barred from marrying each other.
In 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court finally voided those "anti-miscegenation" statutes, as they were called, 16 states still had them on their books. Even then, South Carolina didn't remove its statute until 1999.
America's marriage laws and traditions had a long prehistory by the time they came to this country, observed Harvard historian Nancy Cott, author of "Public Vows," a study of marriage and public policy in American history. Ultimately, they trace to Christian roots.
When the Roman Empire became Christian in the 4th Century, the church took charge of marriage. Chief among the rules it set for the institution was that marriage had to be for life--though earlier cultures had provisions for divorce--and monogamous.
Curiously, that later rule finds no sanction in the Old Testament, a text from which Christianity derives its moral code. The Jewish patriarchs and kings were polygamous--Solomon alone is said to have had 700 wives. Sephardic Jews, who lived in Arabic countries, continued to practice polygamy until well into the Middle Ages. Eventually the "ketubah," Judaism's wedding contract, held a groom to taking an oath that: "he shall not marry another while he is married to the present bride."
Christianity's victory also put homosexuality beyond the moral pale.
The Greeks, the ultimate founders of our civilization, didn't have the same qualms about same-sex relationships, though historians are divided over the extent of homosexuality in ancient Greece.
Richard Saller, a University of Chicago historian, observes that in the ancient Greek city of Thebes, homosexual unions were considered not a danger to the state, but its last line of defense. The elite force of the Thebean army was the Sacred Band, a battalion of 150 gay couples, never beaten until it fought to the last man against the Macedonians. After the battle, King Philip of Macedon came to where their bodies lay, reported the ancient writer Plutarch.
"Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or suffered anything that was base," Philip said.
The Roman Empire flourished for hundreds of years after a notable pair of high-society same-sex marriages. The Emperor Nero fell madly in love with a boy named Sporus.
"He married him with all the usual ceremonies, including a dowry and a bridal veil, took him to his house attended by a great throng, and treated him as his wife," noted the ancient biographer Suetonius, who also reported that Nero tied the knot a second time with a male marriage partner.
Christianity's marriage rules passed into English common law and from that into the legal systems of the early United States. Thus, Christian doctrine was embedded into American law, despite the constitutional provision for separation of church and state, Cott observed.
The leading 19th Century treatise on the U.S. law of marriage defined it as: "the civil status of one man and one woman united in law for life."
Cott noted that in the 19th Century, Western colonialists and missionaries went around the world imposing monogamy on cultures where it was not native. The U.S. did the same, forcing Native Americans to give up their traditions of multiple marriage. Fear of Mormon polygamy held up the admission of Utah to the union.
Birth control made an impact
Since the era of World War II, Americans' conception of marriage has been rapidly changing, said Princeton University historian Hendrik Hartog. Women entered the workforce, making them less dependent on men. Birth control made it practical to separate sex and marriage from procreation. Romantic love, a theme that had been acquiring emotional power for a century, became more the norm.
"Marriage became identified with individual human happiness," said Hartog, author of "Man and Wife in America." "Social conservatives haven't been happy with that shift, but they've lost at every stage of the game."
Among those stages, he said, were divorce-law reforms that made it possible for couples to end unhappy marriages and, should the parties wish, try again for happiness with another partner.
Hartog thinks the gay community's push for same-sex marriage is a logical extension of the idea of marriage as a vehicle for self-fulfillment. Yet he wouldn't hazard a guess on the outcome of the current battle.
One thing seems sure, though: People will always wonder and worry about the well-being of marriage.
The pioneering sociologist Edward Westermarck, who wrote the first serious study of marriage roughly a century ago, had an ornithologist colleague who, reflecting on divorce and adultery, concluded that humans are morally inferior to winged species that mate permanently.
"He is so filled with admiration for their exemplary family life," Westermarck said, "that he enthusiastically declares that `real marriage can only be found among birds.'"