I’ve been reading E.J. Graff’s What is Marriage For?: The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution, which I highly recommend to anyone who’s interested in the history of marriage and how it’s evolved into its current form. Of course, Graff is tracing that history in order to argue in support of marriage equality for her relationship and for all same-sex couples, so some people will disregard it from the start. But those who read it will be intrigued by how Graff traces the changes marriage has gone through:
- how marriage changed when the western economy no longer depended on familial labor (and marriage was a means of knowing who your main co-worker and employees would be) and shifted to individual labor;
- how that shift also made marriage a matter of individual choice rather than an arrangement made by families in order to secure labor and/or property;
- how the Christian church shifted from rejecting marriage (yup, because the world was rotten and J.C. was gonna be back in a minute, dontcha know), to controlling marriage, to finally shifting it to state control;
- how the “purpose” shifted from being solely reproduction (as the economy shifted to ensure that large broods no longer meant guaranteed labor so much as guaranteed poverty) to include sex as purposeful beyond reproduction (i.e. to refresh, renew, and secure the intimate bond of the married couple), even moreso when the Protestant Reformation rejected celibacy;
- how the shift to an industrial economy sent men into the workplace and kept women (who had previously been co-workers of partners in business with their husbands) at home, thus creating the romanticized version of motherhood (and for the first time shifting child custody to the mother from the father);
- how the emancipation of women — in terms of being able to own property, get an education, decide when to have children (thanks to contraception) and earn a living — forever changed the institution of marriage as women had less incentive to get married in order to ensure room and board, and even less incentive to stay in marriages that had become unbearable;
- how the liberalizing of divorce laws (in the 1860s not the 1960s), evolved out of the idea that love was the primary reason individuals chose to marry (after all, what else was left?);
I could go on and on, and I’m oversimplifying the book already. But having gone through all of the above makes me want to ask a question of my readers here.
It’s the question in the title, of course. Why did you get married? Was it to have kids? If your heterosexual and married, why did you opt for a legally-sanctioned union? If you’re in a same-sex couple, why did you get married given the lack of a legally recognized status (unless your in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages or civil unions)? Would you get legally-married if you had the option? I’ll have my own answers later, but I’m interested in hearing from others.
In the meantime, my reading on marriage isn’t quite done yet. Next on the list is Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz.