towards the abolition of marriage

by jdavidcharles

“ Only one who draws the knife gets Isaac ”

-Johannes de Silencio

I tend to generally avoid political posts, politics being far from my field of study. That being said I care a fair deal about religion, specifically sacramental theology, and thus the connection between state and marriage. Having made that caveat I would like to propose a not entirely new idea but one that is often neglected by the religious mainstream—that of the abolition of state marriage. Marriage as an idea is vastly perceived as a politico-economic unit (as, for better or worse, politics is almost unilaterally becoming a politics of economy). As marriage becomes reified to a capital value, an asset, it seems that religious or social meaning dwindles under its commoditization. Thus it seems a wise solution to me to sacrifice state marriage, that is any ties or rights involved between marriage and state, in order to gain marriage as an act beyond a mere reduction to fiscal or political value.

Marriage’s purposes for being political are almost exclusively for the increase of capital, i.e., tax-deductions in the hopes to produce future tax-payers (allowing more money to encourage child birth). With the increase of same-sex adoption as well as single parents this progressively becomes an untenable system. To give tax-deductions to heterosexual couples alone implies, if not ontological superiority, at least fiscal entitlement. Rather than bringing economic benefit to marriage as a religious good it economizes marriage as a political commodity.

Further the plethora of views on what marriage is as such have further caused any definition by the state reductive. By reducing marriage to a politico-economic unit it not only pulls it out of a religious[1] context but inevitably favors one interpretation over another. To give the right to define marriage into the hands of the government, as we have, is in short to entitle them to favor one interpretation of marriage to the exclusion of others. So doing not only suppresses marriage interpretations but shuts off the meaning of whatever interpretation it chooses (if everyone was required to be married according to Roman Catholic dogma for instance, it would mean very little to be a married Roman Catholic, even if you took your vows more seriously than others). Choice is only intelligible as a choice when given the option not to chose it—likewise marrying within a body of meaning (religious or otherwise), symbols and rituals, can only have significance when set against the background of conflicting views. Choosing to vow without the possibility of divorce, for instance, is only a meaningful vow if other people in the world can divorce. Likewise it would be meaningless to define marriage as between only a man and a woman if same-sex marriages had not been introduced. It is only against the background of disagreeing particulars that the radical particularity of a choice or vow gains significance.

To “abolish” marriage then is not to outright remove an institution but to allow it to live again, that is, to allow a space for differing interpretations of marriage to thrive side-by-side: a sphere in which a Roman Catholic church could deny divorced couples to re-marry, conservative Christians could deny same-sex marriages, and the unreligious could have a desacralized service in peace. Abolishing state marriage would open a place for peaceful cohabitation and disagreement between differing parties, as well as restore religious meaning and distinction to stricter vows (i.e. to be a married Roman Catholic would suddenly mean something distinct, given the background of differing marriage vows and restrictions). In order to save what marriage means we must give it up—a separation of marriage and state in order that marriage may once again have civic, social, and even political meaning.


[1] I consider desacralized marriages equally religious and I hope I do not cause offense in doing so; it strikes me, however, any ceremony that proffers some sort of narrative meaning, specifically as regards the individuals, human sexuality, and society (and often the cosmos) is inevitably religious in nature.