When monogamous marriage first makes its appearance in history, it is not as the reconciliation of man and woman, still less as the highest form of such a reconciliation. Quite the contrary. Monogamous marriage comes on the scene as the subjugation of the one sex by the other; it announces a struggle between the sexes unknown throughout the whole previous prehistoric period. In an old unpublished manuscript, written by Marx and myself in 1846, I find the words: "The first division of labour is that between man and woman for the propagation of children." And today I can add: "The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male.
-Friedrich Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884)
The category of sex is the political category that founds society as heterosexual. The category of sex is the one that rules as 'natural' the relations at the base of (heterosexual) society and through which half of the population, women, are 'heterosexualised'. and submitted to a heterosexual economy. [It] is the product of a heterosexual society in which men appropriate for themselves the reproduction and production of women and also their physical persons by means of a contract called the marriage contract .
-Monique Wittig, The category of sex (1992)
Today, it's practically impossible to walk through any grocery store or by any checkout counter without being inundated with romance novels, magazines and tabloids on various celebrity or soap opera weddings. computer shareware and software programme feature wedding planners for the bride and groom-to-be. In the past few years we have witnessed the enormous success of wedding films such as The Birdcage, The wedding banquet, Father of the bride. The social, political, and economic investment in heterosexuality as it is currently organised holds great consequence for much of what we've come to hold sacred and personal .
Chris Ingraham, White weddings (1999)
ur late capitalist, imperialist world celebrates marriage. 2 One hundred (and more) years after Engels' scathing critique of the institution of marriage, and long after first and second 'wave' feminist denouncements on the structural similarities between marriage and prostitution, marriage is burgeoning.
As the publication for the Forum of Inquilabi Leftists, we at Ghadar are interested in two questions:
- what is the connection between present day US hegemony - in its global, imperial guise - and the efflorescence of marriage?
- what should be the role of the 'desi left' in articulating a critique of this connection?
As several articles in this issue point out (see especially, Ravi Ravishankar and Shivali Tukdeo's articles in this issue), perhaps the most hideous feature of 'marriage' is that it has been completely, conveniently 'misrecognised'. In other words, it serves as a foil, diverting our attention away from the inequities of class, race, gender inequities that it then condones and encourages. Rather than celebrate it as the mark of 'two people in love', joined together in understanding and companionship, we should at least be smart enough to recognise marriage for the structure that it intentionally shields from view.
Marriage is the tawdry tombstone that marks the death of social security and the welfare state. It is the vampire with the insatiable appetite, gorging off any possibility of alternate social, emotional and sexual formations. It is the process by which the nation state takes NO responsibility for its tax payers, citizens, residents or workers. It is the structure that turns every other human relation into cannon fodder for the realisation of the genetically procreative dyad. And, through the ridiculous rhetoric of free choice, sexual surveillance, and the politics of 'respectability' - it feeds right into the domestication and globalisation of a US centred neo-imperialism.
George Bush's advice to welfare recipients ('if you're poor: get hitched') clinches the point about the turning inward of social responsibility. 3 The encouragement of marriage for lower income individuals reveals a multi headed monster: it establishes that the state thinks the most efficient social arrangement for poor people is to enter into the monogamous sexual division of labour. Not only does this reveal a disturbing faith in the 'civilising' mission of the heterosexual contract, but it also acknowledges that the state is well aware that many people - perhaps even in a majority in some communities - would, if left to themselves, actively stay away from marriage.
What does this tell us about the bourgeois investment in marriage, and the silent awareness that not all people thoughtlessly celebrate the monogamous, heterosexual dyad?
Bush's cavalier incentives prove that the state believes that the only bonds of love and emotion worth validating are those between an 'adult' man and an 'adult' woman. It attempts to establish that these bonds are the strongest, most 'real' bonds in society; and that they must transcend all obstacles, even the otherwise impenetrable barrier of the nation state. And Bush's ultimate faith in marriage as the antidote to poverty and inequity silently reinforces the notion that the heterosexual nuclear family has to generate love, produce children, feed itself, provide for its health services, and its funerals. From 'love' to procreation to death (which, if you've stopped to think, is a weird, boring and terribly instrumentalist life cycle) the state sponsorship of marriage places the onus for social care on 'individuals'.
What are the incentives that accompany 'marriage'? If we cut through the totally unnecessary jargon on the 'union of a man and woman' marriage
1. makes it possible for some adults to receive health insurance because of their sexual connection to another insured adult. Subtext: single people, queer people, and all those people (according to recent studies this latter group forms over half of the US adult population 4) who forge alternate bonds of human solidarity must live, sicken and die on their own sufferance .
2. some people - again, the docile and capitalist friendly subjects desired by our times - receive citizen rights, and the right to immigrate. Subtext: the imperialist nation state desires the heterosexual and the procreative. All other human beings shall be denied the ability to love, live and form human connections within or outside the normative family structure .
3. The state's sanction of the idea of genetic reproduction at the heart of the heterosexual nuclear family has further, and crushing ramifications on children born outside this family structure; and adoptive parents have to struggle for years to even have the right to care for their children. While the institution of marriage makes it possible for some children to receive health insurance because of their biological connection to an insured parent it reinforces the reality that children born 'out of wedlock', in many cases, adopted children, and children born to lower income, single and/ or uninsured people will not receive health care .
I could list forever the inequities embedded in the realisation of marriage. The list above is simply the tip of the iceberg, and it makes no mention of the informal, non-state supported benefits that accompany heterosexual marriage [ever tried to get a 'family' membership at a YWCA in a small town in the US ? Ever tried to buy AAA car coverage for you and your partner? Ever wondered why single people cover the tax breaks lapped up by the married procreative minority?] The rule book on married privilege is heavy enough to cut its way through an atmosphere as leaden with hypocrisy as our present US centred imperialist world.
But as Manish Vaidya points out in 'Loving Capitalism: Gay marriage and the beast of assimilation', the agenda must not be to extend the privilege to more constituencies. The real solution is to take a stand against marriage in every form and aspect. In this terribly alienating, late capitalist world of ours, when our every thought and desire is sold and owned by some bleeding corporation or the other, when some live in fear for the permanency of their jobs, and others wonder if they can earn enough to eat twice a day, when some human relations are deemed unnatural in the face of the procreative nuclear family - in this horrendously alienating world, the one, actually effective, meaningful stand you can take is to oppose marriage.
The idea of 'gay marriage' - again so misleadingly phrased as being about 'equality' has extended the reach of the imperial nation state. As Lisa Duggan and Richard Kim have pointed out in a recent article in the Nation, the 'movement' produced the very conservative backlash that voted Bush back into power in 2004. 5 Not only did it force the once progressive and diverse agenda of the gay and rights movement to focus first and foremost on marriage, but as a result (of its marriage mindedness) it incensed the married, conservative masses of American society to go out and vote in greater numbers than ever before to bring George W. Bush and his war machine back into power.
While on the subject of 'gay marriage' we have to remember that the curious (deliberate?) racist blind spot on the part of the pro-gay marriage lobby. The self congratulatory discourse of extending marriage rights to gays and lesbians has never once questioned how normative marriage cements the privileges of citizenship, mobility across borders and the right to work. The 'pro-marriage, gay rights' movement in this country has rarely, if ever, forged coalitions with immigrant, non- English speaking, lower income groups - whether straight or queer. Extending marriage to foster equality? That's like saying that Coke is an antidote for lung cancer. Extending marriage to cover 'more' groups is actually about extending privilege to those with disposable incomes and an investment in the double adult nuclear family at the cost of the greater disenfranchisement of the non-consuming and non-reproductive classes. At the cost of those classes already vilified by the modern nation state.
And in the midst of all this, the resounding, deafening silence from our left leaning, and progressive married comrades. 6 As Shivali Tukdeo's article in this issue asks so imperatively, why the silence amongst the self defined left leaning activists? For all their otherwise very real work in favour of coalition building and the erosion of structural privilege, I see one lefty after another succumbing to 'family pressure', to 'personal reasons' or to 'immigration problems'. As in, for all the energy they pour into building concerted anti-imperialistic action, their apology for their own 'choice' is that their reasons were 'personal'.
Hell! There is nothing personal - or individual - about marriage. There is nothing personal about publicly performing the state's desire to elevate the heteronormative, procreative, and dyadic unit as the only legitimate form of social union especially in this age of imperial hegemony. There are people out there, and there are people right here, who fought and are fighting family pressure, personal reasons and immigration problems .But the biggest, most insurmountable problem is the silent
complicity of the married and wanna-be married classes.
The late capitalist, imperialist world celebrates marriage. And marriage is unethical. If there is one, really powerful thing that you can do, curiously enough without even having to step out of the comfort of your bedroom, it is to oppose marriage.
1 I take this title from a statement made by Michael Warner in his 1999 text, The trouble with normal .
2 This piece would never have been written without the fearless energy and enthusiasm of Saadia Toor; and the relentless, measured, scrutiny of Ravi Ravishankar. Please direct all your well intentioned hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org ;)
3 Geov Parrish, 'Working for change'. http://www.workingforchange.com/article.cfm?ItemID=12888
4 See the powerful statistics on 'unmarried America ' : http://www.unmarriedamerica.org/
5 LIda Duggan and Richard Kim, 'Beyond Gay Marriage' http://www.thenation.com/doc/20050718/kim
6 See the Hindu Students' Council home page and its unabashed conviction that marriage is the foundational marker of the Hindu state: http://www.hscnet.org/hwp.php?articleid=19