Something’s odd about the marriage campaign

Marriage is a fascinating case study in the history of ideas.

The same-sex marriage campaign is interesting in a way. Originally marriages were not registered, that is being married was regarded as a relation between two people. Overtime, legal requirements were created that marriages be registered, and eventually registration itself was taken to constitute, or be, the marriage relation itself. This kind of bureaucratic verificationism, where a thing is increasingly defined by how the state measures it, is a repeating template. Edit: to be clear, in suggesting that marriages were not always monitored by the state in pre-modern societies, I’m not suggesting that in those times, the state played no regulatory functions with respect to marriage.

Very roughly we could say that marriage was originally something the state didn’t record (the first stage), then something the state did record (the second stage), and is now (starting about the middle of the fifteen-hundreds in Geneva) something which most people feel is defined by the state’s assent or otherwise (the third and current stage). In reality of course the picture is more complicated, there is a spectrum of increasing state involvement in the concept.

How telling it is that something we once felt was a natural relation between persons is now defined by the presence or absence of paperwork in some dingy office. How odd that what we demand isn’t the recognition of our marriages (which in many of the most important senses already exist), but the bare allowance that we be permitted to marry at all.

To say a few obvious things- none of this is to say that the gay marriage campaign shouldn’t go on. I have been and will remain an enthusiastic participant in the struggle and I’d urge you to be involved. As long as marriage remains on the books, it’s better equal for a whole range of reasons- from visitation rights to cultural recognition. Sometimes though it’s useful though to remember how much has been taken from us, and must be regained.

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About timothyscriven

I study philosophy at Sydney University. In the grand scheme, I'm not very important.
This entry was posted in Political & far left theory and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Something’s odd about the marriage campaign

  1. tommyberne says:

    Reblogged this on Technology, transhumanism and social change. and commented:
    An insightful post on the current marriage campaign.

  2. Kerrie (Tom's aunt) says:

    The acknowledgment of marriage by society has existed prior to the middle ages in Europe. I’m not aware of a society in which couples/groups could randomly form & call themselves married. In the European tradition, statutes took the place of tribal elders’ affirmation. With the dominance of Christianity in Europe, such authority rested with the Church, as it did in Judaism, though, interestingly, not Islam. If the family (however defined) is the foundation of society, then some public acknowledgment must exist, if only for legal protection of the members.

    I do agree that seeking permission from some faceless governing body is anathema, but given the size of our social organism, what else have we?

    Thanks for your well considered views.

    • Most (presumably all) societies have had rules around marriages. That’s not the same as saying that in those societies marriage exists or does not exist on the basis of recognition by authorities. For the authorities to govern marriage is a very different matter than for their will to define it’s presence or absence, though to us the gap might look slight.

    • Also, in a lot of Acephalous societies, it’s not even true to say that the authorities governed marriage.

      I also suspect that in suggesting than in pre-governmental societies, elders functioned like the state in these matters is to project roles onto them that are found in our societies, which they did not really hold, but that’s a whole nother’ can of worms.

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