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

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - SUNDAY SPECIAL -

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.

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SPE­CIAL STA­TUS: The state has cre­ated mar­riage, so it wants you to be­lieve it is a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship

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