Marriage and Anarchy

Anarchy and Marriage


This summer, my younger brother Dan and his fiancée Tara will be marrying. I am happy for my younger brother. He is the first in our family to be marrying (well among my siblings and myself, that is) and in a few years, I suspect I will learn that I am going to be a new uncle. I have always been plagued with doubts that I would ever marry. Growing up, I thought of myself, particularly during my teen years, as being too “geeky” and “weird” for any women to find attractive. I would’ve sold my soul to meet that special someone during my teen years but it never happened. Now that I have had some years to give the concept of “marriage” some thoughts, I have actually come to realize that I am against it. The reason why is that I don’t see how marriage is reconcilable with anarchist political philosophy. As an anarchist, I believe that all men and women are social, political, and economic equals. Marriage is essentially a social inequality between a man and a woman, making the women, traditionally, subordinate to the man. The woman takes the man’s last name and she is considered his property in a sense.


I would never ask a woman to take my last name. She’s free to if she desires but I disdain the idea and I am not sure I would take romantic interest in a woman who wanted to take my last name as an act of obedience. I realize that I am breaking with tradition here. I come from a very conservative, Evangelical Christian family, where the woman was created as a partner for a man and she is, in the cosmic scheme of things, his natural subordinate. Women were made for men, to be their wives, to bear their children, and to take care of the family while the men worked their fingers to the bone to support their wives. I have always had problems with the “subordination” mentality prevalent in fundamentalist circles, even when I was a fundamentalist Christian myself years ago. I always thought that men and women should be equals, should enjoy equal opportunities, equal pay, equal status, equal wealth, and anything else that they have the rights to.


The only exception was being church elders and deacons, which were, biblically speaking, strictly male roles. The man was head of the household, he made all the final decisions, and the woman was supposed to be docile and servant-like to her husband. While that was the “command of God” (or, St. Paul), I thought women should be equals to men in just about any other facet in life. Just not church eldership and deacon positions, mind you!  Sorry ladies, God’s orders were his orders back when I believed that he existed and his orders were to be carried out! Nowadays, I am a Secular Humanist and have no real use for any religion although I find religion fascinating to study from an academic point of view. So where do I stand these days?


After reading the book The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology by Bruce Malina, I have decided against marriage. The reason is because of the origin of marriage, particularly in the ancient Mediterranean. Women were considered the property of their fathers and then their husbands. Nowadays, we want to reform marriage and even allow for same-sex marriage. Fine and good but my problem, though, is at what point do we reform and redefine something and still retain meaning? If we can redefine something so that it takes on any definition or meaning that we want to-it ceases to be meaningful. A friend of mine, an author, and a former minister, John Loftus once told me that at this point, something “dies the death of a thousand qualifications”. In this original context, we were talking about the concept of biblical inerrancy (the belief that the Bible is perfect and error-free) but it can be extended to just about anything.


If we can openly define and redefine something as we please, then at some point we have to ask ourselves if something has any meaning. If we can redefine marriage to be a legal union between any two consenting adults- do we still call it “marriage”? At what point does it die a death of so many qualifications because it’s meaningless. We can call anything a “marriage”. I can live with a woman for years, having a “Platonic” relationship with her. Does it mean anything if I tell people that we have a “Platonic marriage”? It wouldn’t mean anything to me. Perhaps there is a better question- what is so special about getting married? Why should I get married? Beyond this, there is another problem though- that is the state. A marriage is a state-sanctioned legal certificate for two people. But anarchists are opposed to the existence of the state. How is a legal certificate for a man to have a woman as his wife any different from a certificate entitling a man to own private capital for the purpose of making a profit?


Oddly enough, I have even known of anarchists who have gotten married. Noam Chomsky is married to Carol Chomsky. Why though? If Noam is an anarchist, why is he using a state-sanction license to be married to Carol? If I am not mistaken, Robin Hahnel is married to a lady named Ivy. Why though? Why is Robin, a libertarian socialist (would he call himself an anarchist as Chomsky would?) using a state-sanction license to be married to Ivy (was this Ivy Leichmann, who he knew and lived with decades ago?) Michael Albert is living with his love and life partner, Lydia. They’re not married and to me, that seems much more consistent with anarchist political philosophy than getting married. In fact, I was delighted to read of both Albert and Sargent’s decision to live together.


As an anarchist myself, I am hoping to meet a lovely lady who will delighted to be my life partner and be willing to have children with me. I don’t see much point to getting married. If people want to get married, fine, I have no problem supporting their decision. But, to repeat an earlier point; I don’t see how it is consistent with anarchist political philosophy. Would we allow for marriage in a true participatory society? Would any governments exist at all? If government exists mostly to legally recognize and protect private capital and protect capitalists from physical and intellectual piracy, then it should be abolished. But what sense does it make to have a government to legally recognize marriage between two adults? To legally recognize a man’s hierarchical relationship over a woman, with her being his subordinate. Why reform it and redefine it? What point can it be reformed and redefined and still have meaning? I would say that it only, ever, had meaning between two heterosexual adults and put a woman in a new hierarchical relationship with her husband being her new legal owner. Let is be free from that kind of institution and be free from the existence of the state which legally sanctions this kind of nonsense!



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