GOVERNMENT, NOT GOD, MADE MARRIAGE
The State Defines Marriage, Lays Down Who Can Marry Whom And The Accepted Ceremonies, Endorses The Relationship And Regulates It Too
In popular books, movies and songs, lovers marry and live happily ever after. Love is the means and marriage its end. We love to get married. When love sours and does not end in marriage, we even get accusations of rape. All of this furthers the idea that marriage is a God-sanctioned good, something to be aimed at. But Clare Chambers, senior lecturer in philosophy at Jesus College, University of Cambridge, writes in Aeon that this is a misunderstanding of the nature of marriage. All of those cards and roses, gifts and solitaires are not bestowed in the service of the heart but the state.
Marriage, like five-year plans and municipalities, is a state-run scheme. There is no marriage without the state, says Chambers. She demolishes the myth of marriage by questioning people’s strongest, deepest beliefs about it. “What distinguishes marriage from other relationships?” You might say it is for life, that it is built on commitment as opposed to blood, that it is the only relationship that’s founded on love and begets children, and so the future of the human race.
Really, which of these is not true of a man and woman in a live-in relationship? “The real distinction between marriage and unmarried partnership is the role of the state,” says Chambers. She defines it as “a form of relationship recognised and regulated by the state.”
The state defines marriage: you are not married even though you cohabit, if you have not observed certain rituals or ceremonies. The state says same-sex partners cannot be married, so they are not. The state says black and white cannot be married; they are not.
Secondly, marriage is nothing unless the state endorses it publicly and officially. “And so when the state recognises marriage, it declares that marriages are special.” It’s not God who says marriage is special, the state does, because it created marriage.
What it defines and endorses, the state also regulates. How many people there can be in one marriage, whether a couple may divorce or not – the state sets the legal rights and duties of a couple. “These may include financial support, parental responsibility, inheritance, taxation, migration and next-of-kinship: crucial areas of life that affect everyone, married or not.” It is the state, not love or biology, that creates the distinctions of wife and mistress, heir and bastard.
The good thing about staterecognised marriage, Chambers admits, is that “it gives legal protection to the more vulnerable member of a divorcing couple, usually a woman.” But, she adds, this long-running system is unfair because the protections do not extend to people who have not entered a legal marriage. A woman in a live-in arrangement may be as vulnerable as a wife, but the state ignores her. “State-recognised marriage means treating married couples differently from unmarried couples in stable, permanent, monogamous sexual relationships.” Marriage also bundles together “parenting, cohabitation, financial dependency, care, next-of-kinship, inheritance sex... and so it denies people rights that they need in relation to one practice unless they also engage in all the others and sanctify that arrangement via the state.”
Marriage, Chambers says, is an all-ornothing scheme, and this is not only discriminatory but also anachronistic.
SPECIAL STATUS: The state has created marriage, so it wants you to believe it is a special relationship