In Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State, Clare Chambers puts together a well thought out rejection of state recognized marriage based on the notion that such marriages are gendered and heterosexual in nature while undermining liberty and equality. According to Chambers, this book is not for the socially conservative, the religious fundamentalists and the non-egalitarian libertarians, and Chambers makes that clear from the very beginning. Chambers states that the book is also a critique of traditional marriage, a rejection of state-recognized marriages and instead Chambers makes a case for the marriage-free state.
Chambers notes that state-recognized marriages violate equality because they are in most cases not inclusive of same-sex partners, and as such they are heterosexist in nature, and they tend to be oppressive towards women. Chambers believes that civil unions are better than state-regulated marriages, but still notes that they are not the ideal form of partnership. The notion of contracts filled out by partners is discussed, but Chambers also writes about the limitations of creating personal contracts as such contracts still need to be regulated in order to protect vulnerable parties, joint property and children. Chambers also discusses what would happen if there is a breach of contract by either one or both parties, and how such a breach should be dealt with, and whether or not the state would be held financially responsible to help and protect the vulnerable party. Chambers comes to the conclusion that an alternate model of regulation would be needed in the marriage-free state that is neither based on a contract nor the status of a relationship.
Even though Chambers does not have a fully worked out model to replace the state-recognized marriage, Chambers argues that the marriage regime is based on acquired rights and duties that are given because of marriage and that any regulatory framework to replace such institution should focus on equality, freedom and autonomy instead. Therefore, Chambers believes that such a framework needs to be not holistic but piecemeal, focus on the practice of the people and would focus on people opting out of certain ideals rather than opting in when it comes to marriage. As such, Chambers states that people still have the right to undergo the ceremonial and celebratory part of weddings and marriages, but without such an event being state-recognized. However, Chambers also notes that it is important to discuss the notion of these private marriages and how they should focus on doing no harm. Chambers therefore discusses the notion of over-inclusivity (due to polygamy, incest and forced marriages), under-inclusivity (rejecting such a ceremony based on heterosexism and racism) as well as any form of internal inequality (that promotes sexism).
Chambers concludes with the notion that the book provides an egalitarian defense of the marriage-free state and the abolition of state-recognized marriages, based on the notion of marriage being gendered and heterosexist in nature. Chambers does not propose a complete new system to be put in place but rather guidelines that do not undermine equality and liberty. The book is interesting and thought-provoking and Chambers is able to explain why she believes that a marriage-free state is needed.
© 2017 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master's Degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism