Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The One You've Been Waiting for: Rant against Marriage (aka "How to Piss Off Most of Your Friends")

Many of you, my dear friends, are married. 
I am not. 
People in Namibia were hardly subtle about their view on this state of affairs.  A common comment from colleagues at the LAC, for example: “You’re not married”, looking at my hand and the glaring absence of the tell-tale ring.  “You must get married.  Soon.”
Now you’re thinking “sure, but Namibia is a banana republic, this is not how we civilized people think”. WRONG.  Here is, just as a taster,* the Supreme Court of Canada:
[The] ultimate raison d’être [of marriage] is firmly anchored in the biological and social realities that heterosexual couples have the unique ability to procreate, that most children are the product of these relationships, and that they are generally cared for and nurtured by those who live in that relationship.  In this sense, marriage is by nature heterosexual.  It would be possible to legally define marriage to include homosexual couples, but this would not change the biological and social realities that underlie the traditional marriage.”**
Ah, the good old “traditional marriage”.  What the HELL is that?  The “traditional marriage” is about ownership of land and movable property, such as women.  Marriage was the social construct that permitted men to police the sexual conduct of women and in this way try to ensure that the son who would inherit the land was in fact the product of their loins.  

And WHEN did this lovely “traditional marriage” exist? Well, it was prescribed in the Marriage Act of Switzerland UNTIL 1988 that wives had a legal obligation to obey their husbands.***  Nice. 
So the marriage that most of you have entered into, and which is based legally nowadays on the equality of spouses but apparently still tied to popping babies (or at least the theoretical possibility of doing so), and therefore not available to homosexuals, is a fleeting concoction of a few decades.  Before then marriage was something quite different.  Some of this “traditional” stuff still remains.  How many of you ladies were “given away” by your fathers as part of the ceremony?  The symbolism of THAT particular gesture is hardly subtle.
When I make these points in discussion, everyone (married) gets defensive and tells me that all this is nonsense and meaningless to THEIR very special relationship, which they are entitled to define for themselves.  Sure, everyone is indeed entitled to define their relationship as they wish.  But they are not entitled to define their “marriage” as they wish.  You see, the society has made a huge deal of ensuring that homosexuals CANNOT define their very special relationship as a marriage.  So once a (hetero) couple has decided that “marriage” is the relationship they wish to have, they are plunging into a structure that is predefined by law and society.  “[T]he words ‘I do’ bring the most intense private and voluntary commitment into the most public, law-governed and state-regulated domain.”****
Until the institution of marriage changes, becomes truly equal and keeps its nose out of my procreative designs, the society can keep its stinking marriage.  I indeed define my own relationship (well, F has a bit of a say as well…), and “marriage” is a definition I want to steer well clear of.*****
Now PLEASE tell me you were provoked enough to leave some comments.  Rebel! Protest! Tell me that my views suck and you never want to hear them again!
*You REALLY don’t want to get me started on the comments that were made during the debates in the Finnish Parliament when the Marriage Equality Bill was being debated.  It is remarkable how unashamedly regressive supposedly modern people can get when they oppose the human rights of others, but just don’t want to say that this is what they are doing.
**Egan v. Canada, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 513, p. 536 (La Forest, J.).
***A good short introduction to the development of the law on marriage in Switzerland is provided in Baddeley “Le droit de la famille, un droit en constante evolution”, in Chappuis,Foëx and Thévenoz, Le législateur et le droit privé : Colloque en l'honneur du professeur Gilles Petitpierre. (Genève, Schulthess, 2006) pp. 39-56.  Amusing in a painful way.
****Minister of Home Affairs and Another v Fourie and Another (CCT 60/04) [2005] ZACC 19; 2006 (3) BCLR 355 (CC); 2006 (1) SA 524 (CC) (1 December 2005) (Sachs J).
*****Cue in smugness from friends from countries such as Canada (which changed its mind quite quickly after the Egan decision quoted above), France and the UK, where an equal marriage is of course already the reality.  I hereby raise an imaginary toast to C in Canada and T in England on their recent engagements to enter into an equal marriage!


  1. Well,well, my hardheaded daughter! I can tell you, that after 42 years of marriage with the man, which I have chosen myself ( and nobody has given me to him), I still think, that getting married doesn`t mean living in a prison, as you seem to think!! Maybe F has not proposed you!

    1. If you can freely choose your partner, it would be a bit masochistic if you ended up in a relationship that felt like prison. But that is nothing to do with my point.

      The institution that is imposed on your relationship is called marriage. You might like what it has to offer you, but you don't get to choose. If you don't like it, like I don't, then the choice is either to stay out or to take the bum deal.

  2. Now that's the Laura I know! Growing up in conservative, small town India, I had these warped notions about marriage myself a few years ago but thanks to friends like you, I now question every bit of what is defined traditionally as a 'marriage', which, as you might imagine, makes me particularly unpopular in a marriage-obsessed (or wedding-obsessed?) India. It will be interesting to see how you will define your marriage or a marriage-like relationship, whichever you end up choosing!

    1. Sagar, this relationship between marriage and weddings that you bring up is fascinating. Do you think India is obsessed with the concept of marriage or the festival of a wedding? It certainly appears that for some people the wedding appears more important than the marriage. Why is that? I'd love to hear the "Indian perspective" on that.

      I myself love weddings (as you will know from my pestering you for an invitation to the fabulous Indian wedding I always imagined you having...). F finds this perplexing, I always just brushed it aside and thought it was not at all inconsistent with my disapproval of the institution of marriage. Maybe I should think about it more carefully.