What is Marriage?

Yesterday I gave a speech at York University about the institution of marriage and how it relates to me. Here is the transcript.

In order to examine what marriage is today, its important to see it within its historical and social context. Marriage first became something that fully involved the state when common-law marriage for practical purposes was abolished under the marriage act of 1753. Before then, legal marriage was mainly a practice of the aristocratic and bourgeois classes; its main purpose to secure business relationships between rich families and appropriate property away from women and the working classes.
As the UK moved from mercentilism to industrialism to a neo-liberal, ostensibly capitalist economic system, the way that legal marriage was used in society changed from being something that was used solely to secure business relationships between privileged families and something that was more accessible to some sections of the working classes. This is seen as a sign of liberal progression by some commentators, but I’m not convinced.

Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production within society is privately owned. The ruling class, who are the owners of the means of production, have the most economic power, and therefore more political power within our society. They seek to extend their economic and political power by exploiting those who don’t own the means of production, the working class, by forcing them to labour in order to produce surplus value, so they can extract profit. The ruling class seeks to ensure their continued domination by using a tactic of “divide and conquer”; encouraging racism, homophobia, disablism and other forms of bigotry to take root in communities, so the working classes are fighting amongst themselves as opposed to combating the root cause of their exploitation – capitalism and the ruling class.

You might be wondering what exactly this has to do with marriage. Well, the institution of marriage and the concept of “family” it supports, has evolved into another tool to divide the working class by splitting communities in to atomised nuclear family units. This isolates individuals from their neighbours, and decreases the shared resources within a community, increasing profits for those in power. The concept of the family is then further used to exploit a right wing agenda – one recent example being the attack on the LGBT community in defence of the “family” by members of the conservative party. Its interesting that most political acts which supposedly support the “family” could arguably be seen as attacks on the community, and the working class as a whole.
The notion of the family and the institution of marriage is part of this process of division alongside forces such as racism and misogyny, and in some ways they both depend upon each other for their very existence – division in one area of public life giving rise to another form of division. From 1753 onwards, the state entered our bedrooms in order to police our relationships; granting legal marriages to those that were deemed fit of privilege. Now the state wishes most people to enter into marriages, giving them minor financial incentives in order to further atomise the working classes t the benefit of those in power. Whilst I have no issue with people living together, or publicly showing commitment to each other, buying into the institution of marriage is essentially supporting and aiding your own oppression by the state and the ruling class. Whilst there might be a some rare cases in which the benefits of marriage outweigh the disadvantages, such as marrying an asylum seeker to save them from a greater oppression, in most cases marriage represents a misinformed backing of the state and capitalism*

On the subject of gay marriage, I’m sure others speaking tonight will talk about issues of assimilation and heteronormativity. It is my question to ask, then, is advocating incremental change in fighting for the ability of queers to marry progressive? If we ifght for so-called equality within a framework controlled by heteronormative elite, how are me liberated?Is it better then, instead of arguing for gay marriage, to argue for the abolition of marriage altogether, to take direct action against the root causes of our oppression and move towards a society in which hierarchy and division no longer exist and power is held by the community and not the ruling elite?

* In case some of you don’t know me personally, I am currently married, going through a divorce. I married my best friend to take advantage of a relatively large pot of money that would become available to us through student loans and various bursaries should we show we are “independent” of our parents. Obviously, at the time I thought that action was justified, and it has, and will continue (even after the divorce goes through) to massively improve my standard of living whilst I’m a student, and will be essential to my affording to do a masters after this current degree. Im obviously still campaigning for free education and grants for all students though!

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I recently joined formspring. Feel free to ask me things, and if your question is interesting enough, Ill write a blog about it: http://www.formspring.me/charliethescarf

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