The Abolition of Marriage

by John Beverley Robinson

Published in Liberty July 20, 1889 (VI:18, #148), pp. 6-7.

Although this appeared after the debate between Victor and Zelm, logically it is prior, for Robinson's critique of conventional marriage sets the stage for the other two to consider the anarchist alternatives. Actually, Robinson does offer a vague alternative, on which most anarchists could agree, sexual relationships based on consent rather than compulsion. However, he also argues that this ideal was not designed to break up marriages nor to increase promiscuity, for relationships already based on consent and friendship could only be strengthened by removing the aspect of compulsion. In this sense, Robinson's critique of existing marriage strongly parallels the critique of economic monopoly, and his ideal seems to be "free competition" for love and companionship.
What is marriage?

Is it the happy association of a man and a woman, suited to each other in body and in mind, in tastes and in sentiments, by harmony or by contrast, rejoicing each in the mere presence of the other, moved each by the mere sound of the voice of the other; with children, to whom they rather acknowledge themselves under obligations, for the softening and expanding influence of childhood (in babyhood, charming toys, the bringers of hope in childhood, in maturity companions) than assert harsh authority upon the ground of obligations conferred upon them, is this marriage?

By no means. This is not marriage. This is love. No marriage is necessary for such sweet involvements.

Marriage is not the happy and voluntary living together of men and women.

Marriage is a club. Now I have got your; if you try to get away, I will club you. That is what marriage is. And anyone can see its endearing influence.

Marriage is the privilege conferred by law, which is in the end by force, by which one person holds the person or the property of another against their will.

Theoretically each partner by marriage is endowed with claims upon both the person and property of the other. In practice usually it is the person of the wife that the man is after, and the property of the husband that the woman is after. When they get married, the woman exchanges her right to dispose of her body as she pleases for the substantial benefit of cash, either as support or otherwise. (By otherwise I mean, for instance, alimony).

...When I denounce marriage, I have no objection to anybody living happily together. I only say that the possession of a club is not conducive to happiness.

If my wife wants to leave me, the only possible right that I have to retain her is the right of love. I absolutely deny that I have any right to shoot her or to shoot the man that she prefers to me, or to imprison her or in any way coerce her.

More than that; I really should not care to coerce her. The companionship of one we love is worthless when it is forced. Who would think of inviting a friend to go a-fishing, and threaten him with imprisonment if he should change his mind? Would the fishing excursion be much fun if one went under compulsion?

The result of the abolition of compulsion in marriage would soon be that only happy unions could exist. If a man were cruel (and many men are cruel without throwing dishes at their wives), the woman could simply leave him without asking permission of anybody.

It is not possible, if people ever loved each other that they would leave each other lightly. The flavor of friendship grows with age like wine. And if marriage now is not based on friendship, under liberty it could not be based upon anything else. Now a girl usually catches a man by his passion, and there could be no more uncertain and fleeting foundation for a permanent union. When a marriage is happy now-a-days it is because friendship has grown after marriage.

But if a woman had no power to compel her husband to support her, she would be very sure first that his love for her was a deep affection. The rapidly growing equality of the sexes will make intimate friendship more and more possible. In the future the marriage of hearts will come first rather than afterwards, or not at all, as now...

It is commonly felt that all who urge the abolition of marriage particularly wish to be free themselves to lead a reckless life sexually. In my opinion it is chiefly those who are happily married who have reason to desire the abolition of marriage. I say this because anybody who wants to lead a loose life can easily do so. They must be a little careful, cultivate their powers of deceit and hypocrisy, and loudly condemn anybody who suggests that marriage is not all it is supposed to be.

While for those who love, the fact of possessing any power of coercion continually comes up as a little drop of bitterness. She only married me to get taken care of. He only married me from passion. Such feelings at moments arise. Without marriage they could not arise. Each would know that, however love might seem to be lacking, it could but exist; doubt would be impossible; for, with the departure of love (and by love I do to mean merely sexual desire) association would not be maintained...

If I were to speak merely of the abolition of marriage as a desirable thing only, it need have little weight with anybody. What I really feel, and what I really urge, and what must have weight with everybody, is that the abolition of marriage (not the happy living together, but the ceremony, the legalization) is really inevitable...

Notice how many women are being forced to depend upon themselves for support. For each woman thus forced to support herself the wages of men are in proportion reduced.

The tendency is toward an equalization of men's and women's wages, making it more and more difficult for a man to support a woman, and for a woman to find a man who can support her.... When men and women shall be equal financially, is it probable that marriage will survive? With no need on the part of the woman for support, will she give any man power to control her? Will she vow life-long obedience to any man? Would it be especially virtuous that she could vow life-long obedience to any man?...

It will not be long before we shall all of us see the absurdity of demanding that she should place her body for life in the power of any man. We shall see the absurdity of the feeling that any ceremony can add sanctity to the holiness of nature. We shall see the absurdity of the prejudice that a pledge of temporary association and aid for mutual pleasure in begetting and rearing children is necessarily morally abominable, while a permanent pledge to the same effect is necessarily laudable.

We shall see too that one person's taste does not constitute a rule for all men. That, if I admire monogamy, it is no reason why I should abhor those who prefer polygamy or polyandry. We shall see that good faith and honor and uprightness are quite as possible where men exercise no compulsion upon each other in sexual matters as where they do; that, in fact, as for the absolute slave, faith and honor are impossible, so it is only for the entirely free that perfect faith and perfect honor and perfect virtue are possible.


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