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作者 李裕後




Marriage is an outmoded institution built on patriarchal inequality that has no place in modern society

‘Same-sex couples were only invited to the marriage malarkey because it was a failing institution, as divorce rates rise among heterosexuals.’ Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan celebrate their supreme court victory.


 ‘Same-sex couples were only invited to the marriage malarkey because it was a failing institution, as divorce rates rise among heterosexuals.’ Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan celebrate their supreme court victory. Photograph: Kirsty O'Connor/PA


It is right and proper that Rebecca Steinfeld and her partner Charles Keidan have finally won the right to choose a civil partnership over marriage, the court having previously ruled that this option was open only to same-sex couples. Who’d have thought it? Heterosexuals wanting something that we’ve got; being envious of it, even. That is a rare thing to happen, and we should savour it.


But what I really love about this case is how it was fought on the basis that the institution of marriage is outmoded, patriarchal, and built on inequality. As a lesbian and a feminist who has long argued for the abolition of marriage, I appreciate their sentiments. I had worried that the case was being fought on an “It’s not fair, we want what they have” basis, which would have been insulting. But I have to admit, I do not want what they have had for centuries: marriage.


“But you already have it,” I hear you cry, “Lesbians and gay men fought to have the same rights to marry as heterosexuals!” Not me. I, along with some other feminists, have long campaigned to abolish the institution, rather than to extend it further.


But this has made me somewhat unpopular among some of the lesbian and gay community. It is as though I am arguing against equality, rather than marriage itself.


Same-sex couples were only invited to the marriage malarkey because it was a failing institution, as divorce rates rise among heterosexuals. Marketing marriage to same-sex couples was also a way of ensuring that we are tamed out of our semi-feral existence of “living over the brush” and having too much fun and freedom. Lesbians and gay men used to be virulently opposed to marriage, unlike today. In 1971, Jill Tweedie wrote in this newspaper: “Gay Lib does not plead for the right of homosexuals to marry. Gay Lib questions marriage.”


Perhaps the battle fought by Steinfeld and Keidan could spark off a wider campaign to get rid of marriage once and for all? It could certainly do with a revival. When Diana Spencer was preparing to marry Prince Charles, in 1981, I proudly wore my “Don’t do it, Di” badge. I was involved in this vibrant movement, as were a number of progressive heterosexuals.


I’ve been asked a number of times whether I support civil partnerships for all, such as best friends, or siblings. This may be a popular idea for property owners wishing to avoid paying inheritance tax when one of them dies. Surely this is not the answer? We have to think about another arrangement so that people who are not wealthy and have shared living arrangements with their sibling or their best friend do not lose their homes when one of them dies. I have never understood why being in a state-sanctioned couple means you get a tax break – isn’t it more expensive to live alone? The entire system has to be overhauled, so that we are not privileging couples and discriminating against those that do not wish the state to be involved in any way in their relationship, romantic or otherwise.


One key fact about marriage remains, whatever the reforms and modernisations. Marriage is far better for men than it is for women. It reinforces the notion of women as property. It is no wonder men are happier, have better mental and physical health, and are better off financially within marriage than women. As feminist writer Bea Campbell argues in her book, The End of Equality, married women still do the bulk of the housework, and men do almost as little childcare as they did 30 years ago.


The institution has formed the backdrop to women’s oppression for centuries, and it continues to do so. Forced marriage, child brides and polygamy all show how human rights violations of women and girls all too often come hand in hand with marriage. It was not until 1991 that rape in marriage was made a criminal offence in England and Wales. Today, it is still perfectly legal for a man to rape his wife in more than 40 countries worldwide.


The achievements of feminism meant that women were able to opt out of marriage without being seen as spinsters or freaks, but in more recent years its popularity crept back up, with some women even arguing that it was a “feminist” act . Same-sex marriage did little to alter the institution, but has definitely increased its popularity further. I often feel more judged for not being married or having children than I do for being a lesbian.

Progressive heterosexuals would benefit by joining the feminist campaign to abolish marriage. As has been oft said, marriage involves three rings: engagement ring, wedding ring, suffering. The end of marriage is the only way to ensure true equality for all.


• Julie Bindel is a freelance journalist and political activist