The Politics of Marriage at LSE Forum

Marriage is an odd mix of sex, religion, and politics. Our speakers ask what marriage is and whether there is there any distinctive moral value in it. Should the state promote it? Is it possible to have an ‘equal’ marriage, or is marriage fundamentally an oppressive institution? Should marriage be rejected in favour of civil partnerships, or something else, or perhaps nothing else?

You can watch a video of the event and listen to the podcast here.

Speakers
Clare Chambers
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Cambridge

Sir Paul Coleridge
Former high court judge and Chairman, The Marriage Foundation

Peter Tatchell
Activist and Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation

Chair

Sarah Fine

Fellow, The Forum
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, King’s College London

Seminar in Contemporary Political Thought

Seminar in Contemporary Political Thought

Convened by Dr Clare Chambers (Philosophy) and Dr Duncan Bell (POLIS)
University of Cambridge

Michaelmas Term 2017

All sessions are held on Fridays at 1 – 2.30pm in the Bawden Room of Jesus College. This is in West Court, which can be accessed either via the main entrance of Jesus College or directly from Jesus Lane.

Refreshments will be served at the close of formal proceedings. There are no precirculated papers and all are welcome.

6 Oct: Tom Shakespeare, University of East Anglia: “The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: making use of the stilts?”

20 Oct: Avia Pasternak and Jeff Howard, UCL: “Criminal Acccountability, Restorative Justice, and the Moral Standing of States”

3 Nov: Katrin Flikschuh, LSE: “Philosophical Racism”

17 Nov: Bernardo Zacka, University of Cambridge: “When the Rules Run Out: Informal Taxonomies at the Front Lines of Public Service”

Lent Term 2018

All seminars will be held in Upper Hall, Jesus College. Please note that this is a different room from that used by the Seminar in MT. Upper Hall is in the old part of Jesus College, enter via the Porters’ Lodge.

The seminars are held on Fridays at 1 – 2.30pm, followed by refreshments. There are no pre-circulated papers and all are welcome.

**Please note also that the third Seminar this term deviates from the fortnightly pattern, to accommodate a speaker coming from overseas.**

19th January: Cecile Laborde, University of Oxford. “Liberal Egalitarianism and the Critique of Religion”

2nd February: Heather Widdows, University of Birmingham. Title TBC.

9th February (NOTE DATE): Sam Moyn, Yale University. “The Doctor’s Plot: How Philosophizing Human Rights Began”

2nd March: Herjeet Marway, University of Birmingham. “Procreative Justice and Genetic Selection for Non-Disease Traits: The Case of Fair Skin”

The body, appearance norms, cosmetic procedures, modification

I am currently writing about the distinctions between cosmetic, cultural, and clinical surgery.

One working paper, “Cultural v. Cosmetic v. Clinical Surgery: Challenging the Distinction” argues that cultural elements pervade both cosmetic and clinical surgery.

Another paper, “Medicalised genital cutting and the limits of choice”, is in preparation for a major inter-disciplinary volume on female genital cosmetic surgery.

I am planning  a major new research project titled Intact: The Political Philosophy of the Unmodified Body.

This academic research connects to two further projects:

I am a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics Working Party on Cosmetic Procedures, due to report this summer. This major report is aimed at policy makers and stakeholders. It identifies the ethical issues arising from the increasing use of invasive cosmetic procedures, and makes recommendations for regulation and other measures. The Working Party consists of experts from Philosophy, Psychology, Medicine, Nursing, Surgery, Law, Anthropology, Sociology, and Advocacy / Activism. It has been collecting evidence and deliberating for nearly two years.

I am a trustee of the charity Genital Autonomy, which campaigns against unnecessary genital cutting of children, whether they are male, female, or intersex.

Medicalised Genital Cutting and the Limits of Choice

in Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery: Interdisciplinary Analysis and Solution, edited by Sarah Creighton and Lih-Mei Lao (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

In this chapter I challenge the idea that an appeal to choice exonerates Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery (FGCS). My argument proceeds in five stages. First, I consider the normative role that choice plays in liberal society and philosophy. Second, I note that UK law does not treat choice as adequate for accessing FGCS. Third, I consider the relationship between choice and the concept of normality. Fourth, I consider choice in the context of cosmetic surgery generally, and analyse the distinctive features of FGCS. Fifth, I consider the policy implications of my analysis.

Conscience and Context

In Political Emotions: Toward a Decent Public Sphere, edited by Thom Brooks (Palgrave MacMillan, forthcoming).

In The New Religious Intolerance  Martha Nussbaum sets out an impassioned plea against that intolerance, which she sees as a pressing but almost entirely European problem. Although there are differences between European nations, Nussbaum argues, Europeans in general have a variety of problematic attitudes to religious diversity that are not found in the USA. These include “fear and mistrust,” inconsistency, “a concern for homogeneity that leads them to commit some errors in public argument that are troubling,” the desire that immigrants “fit in,” greater anti-Semitism than is found in the USA, and a refusal to debate, let alone embrace, “the free exercise of religion”. In place of this European foolishness “the American solution is urgently needed.” The New Religious Intolerance is thus at once a critique of the ‘European’ way of dealing with religion and a defence of the superior American way. Events since Nussbaum published NRI suggest that both Europeans and Americans have grounds for deep soul-searching and self-criticism concerning attitudes to immigration and diversity. In this paper I offer a critique not of the political implications of Nussbaum’s account, but rather of its philosophical underpinnings. My argument proceeds through analysis of her critique of a legal ban on the burqa which has been implemented in various ways in France, Belgium, and Italy

Judging Women: 25 Years Further Toward a Feminist Theory of the State

Feminist Political Quarterly (Vol. 3 No. 2, 2017).

The title of this paper is “Judging Women”, a phrase that can be understood in three senses. First, when is it acceptable or necessary to make judgements about what women do? Feminists may be wary of subjecting women’s choices and actions to criticism, but the paper argues that such criticism is implied by a feminist perspective on patriarchy, a perspective which is necessarily critical. Second, when can women engage in the act of judging? The paper argues that being judgmental is popularly considered a vice, but only when done by women. Feminism should insist on women’s right to judge. Third, how are we to judge who counts as a woman? The paper investigates the commonalities and contrasts between feminism and trans issues, and discusses the concepts of essentialism and transphobia. The focus throughout is on MacKinnon’s work, which offers profound, sustained, rich analysis of these questions but does not fully resolve them.

You can read the paper here.

Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State

Clare Chambers, Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State (Oxford University Press, 2017)

Winner of the APSA David Easton Award 2018.

Available now from all good bookshops! Use the code AAFLYG6 at www.oup.com to buy the book at 30% off.

 Read the book on Oxford Scholarship Online here.

Follow the full coverage of the book, including links to reviews, articles, and other material, by clicking on “all posts on marriage” at the bottom of this page.

Synopsis

Against Marriage is a radical argument for the abolition of state-recognised marriage. Clare Chambers argues that state-recognised marriage violates both equality and liberty, even when expanded to include same-sex couples. Instead Chambers proposes the marriage-free state: an egalitarian state in which religious or secular marriages are permitted but have no legal status.

Part I makes the case against marriage. Chambers investigates the critique of marriage that has developed within feminist and liberal theory. Feminists have long argued that marriage is a violation of equality since it is both sexist and heterosexist. Chambers endorses the feminist view and argues, in contrast to recent egalitarian pro-marriage movements, that same-sex marriage is not enough to make marriage equal. Chambers argues that state-recognised marriage is also problematic for liberalism, particularly political liberalism, since it imposes a controversial, hierarchical conception of the family that excludes many adults and children.

Part II sets out the case for the marriage-free state. Chambers critically assesses recent theories that attempt to make marriage egalitarian, either by replacing it with relationship contracts or by replacing it with alternative statuses such as civil union. She then sets out a new model for the legal regulation of personal relationships. In the marriage-free state regulation is based on relationship practices not relationship status, and these practices are regulated separately rather than as a bundle. The marriage-free state thus employs piecemeal, practice-based regulation. Finally, Chambers considers how the marriage-free state should respond to unequal religious marriage. The result is an inspiring egalitarian approach that fits the diversity of real relationships.

Reviews

Against Marriage is “political philosophy at its most practical and readable.”

Andrew Harrop, General Secretary of the Fabian Society, in Fabian Review

“This is a distinct and important contribution to an increasingly crowded field of liberal political philosophy on marriage and the state and, perhaps most interestingly, to our understanding of the liberal project broadly. … Where other liberals seek more vigorously to balance competing demands of freedom and equality, or emphasize freedom, Chambers hews rigorously to an egalitarian position. You won’t find another book that does this so effectively or by way of such productive engagement with existing scholarship. Laying out the egalitarian case in such clear and compelling terms, Chambers highlights the challenges it presents to the liberal side of her liberal feminist equation. In so doing, Against Marriage leaves us wondering just how tenable the liberal feminist project is.”

“Chambers leads us to these questions by bringing us to the edge of the liberal feminist frontier. This alone would make Against Marriage a distinct and important contribution. But, of course, Chambers does more. She offers a compelling vision of why and how to move beyond marriage and points us in the direction of work that needs to be done. All with the grace and graciousness of an analytical philosopher running at full throttle.”

Tamara Metz, Political Theory

“Clare Chambers provides a clear, lucid and timely argument against state-recognized marriage based on the liberal principles of liberty and equality.

“Throughout, she is masterful at anticipating and responding carefully to potential objections to her arguments and proposals. Her anticipation of objections demonstrates a familiarity with a wide swath of literature from and conversations with both feminist and non-feminist scholars of marriage and family, both critics and advocates of marriage, and representatives of a range of liberal (and some illiberal) theoretical approaches. And her responses to those who might disagree with her proposals reveal a two-fold carefulness: as a philosopher, she is thoughtful, deliberate, precise, and meticulous; as a feminist, she is attentive, concerned, and compassionate — considering not only the philosophical justifications for her proposals but also their practical fall out for women and other vulnerable populations.

“I highly recommend Chambers’ book as an important scholarly and pedagogical resource. It is beautifully crafted and makes an important contribution to the literature in liberal political theory and, more specifically, to the philosophical literature on marriage and family. Chambers’ arguments against state-sponsored marriage are clear, persuasive, thorough and timely, as are her critiques of the most oft-supported alternatives, namely marital contracts and civil unions. Her discussions of recent feminist literature on marriage clearly delineate the differences among theorists and between their positions and her own. Finally, she models respect for her philosophical interlocutors through fair treatment of their positions and demonstrates respect for her readers through carefully crafted prose, clearly laid out arguments, and frequent summaries and reminders linking sections and chapters together. It was my distinct pleasure to read this book and be provoked by its arguments into a better understanding of both liberalism’s promise and its limitations with regard to its support of diverse forms of relationship.”

Shelley M. Park in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Contents

Introduction: “The Marriage-Free State”
Chapter 1: “Marriage as a Violation of Equality”
Chapter 2: “Marriage as a Violation of Neutrality”
Chapter 3: “A Liberal Defence of Marriage?”
Chapter 4: “The Limitations of Contract”
Chapter 5: “Regulating Relationships in the Marriage-Free State”
Chapter 6: “Marriage in the Marriage-Free State”
Conclusion

Chapter Outlines

Part One, “Against Marriage,” sets out objections to marriage regimes. Chapter 1, “Marriage as a Violation of Equality,” makes the foundational egalitarian case against marriage. It starts with a historical overview of feminist objections to marriage and notes that feminists tend to criticise marriage for being both sexist and heterosexist. This two-pronged attack looks puzzling. How can it be both bad for women to be married and bad for lesbians and gays to be unmarried? The discussion continues with an analysis of whether same-sex marriage is egalitarian. It concludes that, in a marriage regime, same-sex marriage is both required by and insufficient for equality. Finally, the chapter argues that reformed versions of marriage such as civil union still enact inequality between those who have and those who lack the relevant status. It follows that the abolition of state-recognised marriage best meets the myriad egalitarian objections to the institution.

Chapter 2, “Marriage as a Violation of Liberty,” considers liberal objections to marriage. Perfectionist or comprehensive liberals should reject state-recognised marriage as limiting autonomy in the service of an unappealing and restrictive model of human perfection. But political liberals should go further, and reject state-recognised marriage as prima facie incompatible with neutrality. The chapter clarifies the nature of political liberal neutrality, and establishes that there are many reasonable conceptions of the good that are not compatible with the state recognition of marriage. This fact means that marriage is not a neutral, political institution, and that promotion of it is an act of perfectionism.

The chapter then discusses the idea that political liberalism might be compatible with policies that are prima facie non-neutral if those policies can be supported by public reason. Political liberalism is ambiguous between two forms of neutrality: strict and lax. Strict neutrality allows state action only if sufficiently weighty public reasons can be adduced in favour of a policy; lax neutrality permits the state to act just as long as some public reason can be given. If political liberalism is to be an interesting philosophical approach it will defend strict neutrality, so any public reasons offered in support of state-recognised marriage must be weighty enough to overcome the non-neutrality of that institution.

This line of argument continues in Chapter 3, “A Liberal Defence of Marriage?” This chapter considers and rejects five potential liberal arguments in favour of marriage: arguments that, if successful, might work as public reasons for political liberals or might make marriage into an attractive account of human flourishing for perfectionist or comprehensive liberals. These arguments are based on communication, gender equality, care, the interests of society, and children’s interests. The chapter argues that, while these arguments do highlight legitimate public goods, they fail to show that state-recognised marriage is a necessary or acceptable way of achieving them.

If marriage is no longer to be recognized by the state, what should replace it? Part Two, “The Marriage-Free State,” answers this question. Many theorists defend relationship contracts. Some argue that enforceable relationship contracts should be available alongside existing or reformed state-recognised marriage, and available to either married or unmarried couples. Other theorists argue that relationship contracts are the best sort of legal regulation to replace marriage. It is this latter question that is the subject of Chapter 4: “The Limitations of Contract.” The chapter contrasts contract and directive models of regulation, and notes that contract appears more compatible with liberty than does directive. However this appearance is illusory since contracts can undermine liberty, directives can enhance liberty, and even a contract regime requires default directives. Moreover, there are various problems with the enforcement of relationship contracts. Specific performance is rarely appropriate in the relationship context. The alternative, fault-based compensatory alimony, risks causing injustice to vulnerable parties such as those who take on caring responsibilities (usually women) and children. Relational contract theory attempts to deal with some of these problems but has its own limitations. The chapter concludes that contract is not the best replacement for marriage.

Chapter 5, “Regulating Relationships in the Marriage-Free State,” sets out a new model for regulating personal relationships, one that relies on neither contract nor a holistic status such as marriage or civil partnership. Critics of marriage have suggested one of these two options, with most recent feminist and egalitarian work focusing on alternative holistic statuses such as Tamara Metz’s Intimate Care-Giving Unions or Elizabeth Brake’s Minimal Marriages. These new holistic statuses, while they improve on marriage, do not avoid a fundamental problem for egalitarians: an unjust distinction between those who have, and those who lack, that status. Instead, the chapter sets out three features of regulation in the marriage-free state. First, it is piecemeal not holistic: relationship functions are regulated separately, without assuming bundling or an ideal-typical relationship format. Second, it proceeds via practices not status: regulation applies to those who are acting in certain ways rather than being dependent on a status that must be formally acquired. Third, liberty is secured by opting out of default regulations rather than opting in. This model of regulation is compared with alternatives found in both political philosophy and legal practice.

Finally Chapter 6, “Marriage in the Marriage-Free State,” considers the extent to which the state should seek to regulate any private religious or secular marriages that citizens might enter into. In the marriage-free state citizens could still take part in religious or secular marriage ceremonies. This is why the marriage-free state is not a marriage-free society. It does not follow, however, that the state should take no interest at all in such marriages, since they may take place in the context of oppression or injustice. The chapter sets out the case for intervention in marriages that are not recognised by the state, drawing on the model of liberal intervention in cultural practices set out in my first book Sex, Culture, and Justice: The Limits of Choice.

Seminar in Contemporary Political Thought

imagesLent Term 2017

All seminars this term will be held in JESUS COLLEGE, in the Prioress’s Room. Please note that this is NOT the same college as last term. Moreover, long-standing seminar members should not that this is NOT the usual room in Jesus College. The seminar will be signposted.
As usual the seminars take place at alternate Fridays at 1pm – 2.30pm, with refreshments served at the close of formal proceedings. There is no pre-circulated paper and all are welcome.
 
20th Jan: Dana Mills, University of Oxford. “The Dancer of the Future from a Socialist Point of View: Eleanor Marx, Isadora Duncan, and Choreographing Socialist Feminism”

3rd Feb: Herjeet Marway, University of Birmingham. “Should we genetically select for the beauty feature of fair skin? Procreative Beneficence versus Procreative Justice.”

17th Feb: Chris Armstrong, University of Southampton. “Institutions, Growth, and Global Justice”

3rd March: David Runciman, University of Cambridge. “States, Corporations, Robots”

Seminar in Contemporary Political Thought

imagesSeminar in Contemporary Political Thought

Michaelmas Term 2016

Convenors: Dr John Filling (Philosophy) and Dr Paul Sagar (POLIS).

Seminars will be held in the Audit Room, King’s College

 

7th October: Dr Timothy Fowler, University of Bristol

Political Liberalism, Science, and Faith: The Case of Intelligent Design

21st October: Dr Robert Jubb, University of Reading

Civil Disobedience and the Disaggregation of Political Authority

4th November: TBC

 18th November: Dr Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, Warwick University

The Doctrine of Gender Identity – A Critical Examination

Lecture List

I regularly lecture on the Philosophy Tripos, for all Parts. Students from other Faculties are welcome. For details of this year’s Lecture List see the Faculty of Philosophy website here.

I do not provide lecture materials to students who do not attend lectures other than in exceptional circumstances.

Genital Autonomy Conference

cir_genitalintegrity_internlsymbolI had a profoundly moving and informative time listening and speaking at the Genital Autonomy 14th Annual Symposium on Changing Global Perceptions: Child Protection & Bodily Autonomy. The Symposium was at Keele University on 14-16 September 2016. You can find details of the Symposium here. My talk was titled “Cultural v. Cosmetic v. Clinical Surgery: Challenging the Distinction.”

There is a general consensus in liberal theory, practice, and law that female genital mutilation (FGM) is a violation of rights and justice that should be banned. However, there is no such consensus about male circumcision or cosmetic surgery, including labiaplasty. These practices are legal in most liberal states and there is no general critique of them in mainstream liberal theory. This talk will consider the philosophical reasons in favour of distinguishing FGM from male circumcision and labiaplasty, and find them wanting. Both cosmetic and clinical surgeries are fundamentally cultural. I argue that male circumcision and cosmetic surgery should be regulated in the same way as FGM – which means, among other things, much stricter regulations on when such surgeries can be performed on children.

Broadly at Vice.Com

photoI provided comment and analysis for an article on the sharing economy by Sirin Kale at Broadly, titled “ ‘There was a Stranger in My Own House’: Is the Sharing Economy Safe for Women?”. You can read the article here.

Women and minorities appear more likely to experience violence and discrimination on platforms like Uber and Airbnb. How did the gig economy go so wrong?

99 Women for Refugee Women

Clare ChambersI am one of Women for Refugee Women’s 99 Women speaking out against detention for refugee women. You can see the other women here.

We asked 99 inspiring women to write a message in support of refugee women, to reflect the 99 pregnant women who were detained in Yarl’s Wood detention centre in 2014. These women include Charlotte Church, Romola Garai, Malorie Blackman, Yasmin Kadi, Noma Dumezweni, Nimco Ali, Caitlin Moran, Bridget Christie, Baroness Valerie Amos, Yvette Cooper MP, Juliet Stevenson, Mary Beard, Sophie Walker, Anoushka Shankar, Caroline Spelman MP, Oona King, Bryony Hannah, and Caroline Lucas MP.

Philosophers on same-sex marriage at Daily Nous

header-w-sub-daily-nousI am one of a panel of philosophers discussing the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage at the Daily Nous blog. You can read it here.

On Friday, June 26th, the Supreme Court of the United States announced its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, holding that the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the recognition and provision of same-sex marriage. It requires each of the 50 states in the US to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples seeking them, and to recognize legitimate same-sex marriages  performed in other jurisdictions. … The decision is a landmark in the development of the rights and liberties of gay and lesbian people in the US, and is not without its controversy, of course. Many questions have arisen about the reasoning of the majority and that of the dissenting justices, as well as the significance of the decision. To get clearer on some of these issues, [Daily Nous] asked several philosophers to contribute some brief remarks on the ruling. They are: Elizabeth Brake (Arizona State), Cheshire Calhoun (Arizona State), Clare Chambers (Cambridge), John Corvino (Wayne State), Brook Sadler (South Florida), Edward Stein(Cardozo), and Kevin Vallier (Bowling Green). 

Seminar in Contemporary Political Thought LT 2016

University-Cambridge-logo.jpg.pagespeed.ce.XYF4Slmu5oAll sessions are held in the Coleridge Room of Jesus College, Cambridge at 1-2.30pm.

15th January

Ruth Kinna, Loughborough University
Anarchist Feminism/Anarchism and Feminism: Waves, Exclusions and Intersections

29th January

Catherine Lu, McGill University
Reparations and Historic Injustice

12th February

Alan Finlayson, University of East Anglia
Parody and Political Speech

26th February

Mihaela Mihai, University of Edinburgh
The Art of Solidarity