978-0-8070-4114-7 / 9780807041147

What Is Marriage For?


Publisher:Beacon Press



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About the book:

E.J. Graff had a very personal reason for asking the question in this book's title: she was married in 1991, but in a ceremony legitimized by neither church nor state. Graff and her dearly beloved, you see, are lesbians. But instead of being dominated by agenda, What Is Marriage For? is a playful and informative study of the institution of wedlock throughout history that will appeal to readers outside of its obvious constituency. Chapter by chapter, Graff looks at the legal, sociological, and anthropological assumptions about money, sex, procreation, tribal affiliation, and the pursuit of personal happiness that underlie the concept of matrimony in Western societies. Her eye for the odd historical footnote is especially striking: we learn, for example, that in ancient Rome, marriage vows were exchanged by the groom and his father-in-law, and that--the assertions of right-wing fundamentalists notwithstanding--families were actually far less stable in the premodern era (where as many as 50 percent of all French children lived with a stepparent) than they are today. Graff's conclusion? The rules of engagement have fluctuated so wildly over the centuries that the term "traditional marriage" is something of an oxymoron; same-sex unions are but one of the many ways in which marriage has evolved to meet the changing social dynamics of the 20th century. --Patrizia DiLucchio

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