Cover image for What is marriage for?
What is marriage for?
Graff, E. J.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston, Mass. : Beacon, [1999]

Physical Description:
xv, 303 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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HQ734 .G716 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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John Stuart Mill called marriage the first political institution most of us enter as adults. In a book that is always witty, often startling, and deadly serious, E. J. Graff traces the history of this institution, from a feminist perspective, illuminating the many forms it has taken, arguing forcefully for the legalization of same-sex marriage, and shedding new light on such ongoing battles as equality between wives and husbands and the contentious definition of "family." Each chapter-Money, Sex, Babies, Kin, Order, and Heart-examines a crucial aspect of this personal and political bond, sifting through the ways Old Testament Hebrews, Catholic theologians, Protestant reformers, nineteenth-century utopians, and people in our day define marriage. Graff reveals that marriage is something surprising and strange-and, right-wing moralizing notwithstanding, not very traditional at all. For instance, marriage wasn't declared a sacrament in the Catholic Church until 1215. Among Roman aristocrats, wedding pledges were exchanged by the groom and his father-in-law. And the "crime against nature" once meant contraception. This passionate and often personal search for the meaning of marriage argues that marriage has always been a social battleground, shifting constantly to suit each economy, each era and each class. The Washington Post Book World: "(Graff's) first- person interjecti turn what could have been a dry textbook into a lively personal examination of what it means to choose a life partner (regardless of age or sex)." The San Francisco Chronicle: "With the patience of a saint, and the wit and wisdom of that favorite professor at college, Graff Shows in What is Marriage For? how and why marriage in the 20th Century is about love, money, social justice, stable homes for adults and children and constitutional democracy...all who are caught up in the same-sex marriage debate will find Graff's book invaluable."

Author Notes

E. J. Graff is a journalist and writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, The Village Voice, Out, and elsewhere

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

"What is marriage forÄlike most serious political or social questionsÄis a question about what it means to be fully human," contends Graff in her lively feminist treatise on why same-sex marriage should be legalized in the United States. Beginning with her own desire to be married to her partner, Madeline, and the (non-legal) ceremony they shared, she explores why people yearn to be married, the state's investment in such unions and why society might object to particular couplings. She contends that since marriage encourages hard work, fidelity and legitimate children and creates social parameters for sex, it's good for society. Given that it is, fundamentally, a matter of "individual spirit," Graff argues that same-sex partners should be able to share in these virtues. The book's strength lies in her well-researched and entertaining history of Western marriage. Revealing how social change has always preceded legal and religious change, she delineates how couplings we take for granted todayÄsuch as marriages for love, marriages in which women work outside the home, those in which the partners use contraception for family planning or remain childless, and those between members of different races and religionsÄwere all once thought to provide such extreme threats to the institution of marriage that critics claimed each would destroy it. Since none did, asserts Graff, same-sex marriage won't, either. Although her repeated summaries of "what marriage is for" and why it must include same-sex couples can become a bit tiresome, and her dismissals of alternative views don't always take into account their tenacity (she ultimately spurns as "doomsaying" the idea that marriage won't survive social change), on the whole Graff's argument is spirited and likely to generate discussion. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

From her vantage point as a lesbian "married" to her partner for more than a dozen years, journalist Graff writes a semihistory of marriage organized around six main reasons for (Western) marriage through the agesÄmoney, sex, babies, kin, social order, and love. Each chapter explores how one of these reasons for marriage has developed from the early days of the Romans to the ideas held today and then argues how same-sex marriage fits into the pattern. The extensive notes and bibliography document Graff's research. Primarily a scholarly rather than a self-help book, this is appropriate for sociology collections in academic libraries but may be of limited interest to general readers.ÄKay L. Brodie, Chesapeake Coll., Wye Mills, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
1 Moneyp. 1
Exchanging It: The Marriage Marketp. 4
Making It: The Working Marriagep. 11
Being It or Being Without It: Slaves and Paupersp. 16
Keeping It: Ain't Nobody's Business If I Say "I Do"p. 21
Keeping It: What's His Is His and What's Hers Is ... Whose?p. 26
Ignoring It: Can't Buy Me Lovep. 34
Sharing It: So Who Needs Marriage?p. 36
2 Sexp. 53
Refraining, 1: Christians Reject Marriagep. 55
Reproducing: Is It a Marriage ... Or Is It a Brothel?p. 59
Refraining, 2: The Protestants Rebel against Celibacyp. 64
Refreshing, 1: Heart and Soul v. Womb and Spermp. 69
Refreshing, 2: Intimate to the Degree of Being Sacredp. 82
3 Babiesp. 88
What Makes a Family?p. 92
What Do We Do about Those Little Bastards?p. 99
Will the "Real" Parent Please Stand Up: Mother, Father, Other?p. 105
Why Have Kids?p. 113
Should Lesbians and Gay Men Be Parents?p. 117
4 Kinp. 145
Marrying Out: Barricading the Tribep. 148
Marrying In: Protecting the Familyp. 160
Marrying Early and Marrying Often: Polygamyp. 168
Marrying Everyone: Utopiansp. 177
5 Orderp. 191
Inside Out or Outside In: Who Says You're Married?p. 193
Living Together: Is It Marriage Yet?p. 209
Remember the Ladies: Who Runs the Marriage?p. 215
6 Heartp. 227
Dissent: Untying the Knot, or When Can You Say "I Don't"?p. 229
Consent: Tying the Knot, or Who Can Say "I Do"?p. 241
Conclusionp. 249
Notesp. 254
Selected Bibliographyp. 278
Acknowledgmentsp. 292
Indexp. 294