Against Marriage at Bigg Books

I’ll be talking on Against Marriage in the Bigg Books speaker series in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne on 20 November 2018. You can find more details here.

Clare Chambers is Reader in Political Philosophy at University of Cambridge. She is a political philosopher specializing in feminist philosophy, contemporary liberalism, theories of social justice, and social construction. She will argue for the abolition of state-recognised marriage on the grounds that it violates both equality and liberty, even when expanded to include same-sex couples. Instead she will defend the idea of a the marriage-free state: an egalitarian state in which religious or secular marriages are permitted but have no legal status.

Clare Chambers’s award-winning book Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defense of the Marriage-Free State was published last year by Oxford University Press (https://global.oup.com/academic/product/against-marriage-9780198744009)

Venue: Lit and Phil, 23 Westgate Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Against Marriage at Festival of Ideas

I’ll be talking about Against Marriage at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas on Monday 15th October 2018, in the Frankopan Hall of Jesus College, Cambridge. Tickets are available here.

 

Many states have recently expanded their definition of marriage to allow marriage between same-sex couples: a welcome move towards equality, but does this go far enough? Philosopher Clare Chambers argues for a more extreme position: that the state should not recognise marriage at all. State recognition of marriage, she will argue, is a violation of both equality and liberty – no matter how marriage is redefined.

Tickets were sold out and so the talk was live-streamed. You can watch it on youtube here:

David Easton Award presented at APSA 2018


The 2018 David Eason Award was presented to me for Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State at the APSA Annual Meeting in Boston.

The Award is given “for a book that broadens the horizons of contemporary political science by engaging issues of philosophical significance in political life through any of a variety of approaches in the social sciences and humanities.” You can see previous winners of the Award here.

OUP Women in Philosophy reading list

 

Against Marriage features in the Oxford University Press Women in Philosophy reading list.

“This March, in recognition of Women’s History Month, the OUP Philosophy team will be celebrating Women in Philosophy. The philosophy discipline has long been perceived as male-dominated, so we want to recognize some of the incredible female philosophers from the past including Simone de Beauvoir, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Hannah Arendt, plus female philosophers doing great things in 2018 like Martha Nussbaum, Clare Chambers, and Kate Manne.”

You can see the whole reading list here.

Quoted on marriage in The Guardian

Rose Hackman quotes me in a long-form piece on marriage in The Guardian. You can read the whole article here.

” “Married men gained rights over women’s bodies, property and children,” confirms Clare Chambers, a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Cambridge who wrote a book arguing for an end to state-recognized marriage. “Traditionally [marriage] has maintained legal gender inequality, and it has done so to the benefit of men.”

“Chambers concedes that many formal inequalities tied to marriage have been denounced and revoked. Marital rape was outlawed in the UK in 1991 and in the US in 1993 – hard to believe there was ever an exemption – and same-sex marriage was legalized in 2014 and 2015 respectively.”

 

 

Against Marriage wins APSA’s David Easton Award

I am delighted and honoured to learn that Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State has won the 2018 David Easton Award of the American Political Science Association (APSA). APSA say: “The David Easton Award is given for a book that broadens the horizons of contemporary political science by engaging issues of philosophical significance in political life through any of a variety of approaches in the social sciences and humanities.”

The citation for the Award is as follows:

“Clare Chambers’ Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State and Barbara Arneil’s Domestic Colonies: The Turn Inward to Colony won recognition from our committee because these two books exhibit logical rigor, clarity of structure, lucidity of thought, and crisp prose. Just as important, they tackle politically significant problems: in the first case, the liberal democratic state’s sanctification of one form of intimate social relations at the expense of others, and in the second case, the challenges that Western domestic colonies in the modern past pose for understandings of colonialism in the present. The two books deftly situate themselves against the backdrop of larger literatures on, respectively, marriage and colonialism, and they carve out provocative positions that draw on those literatures while moving beyond their existing limits of thought and action. As all true provocations should do, they are sure to stimulate new analyses and arguments in response to the ideas they lay out.

“Clare Chambers breathes new life into radical feminist critiques of marriage and classical liberal critiques of states that give their imprimatur to specific notions of the good life in order to argue that state-recognized marriage is fundamentally unjust. This may seem a surprising claim in an era in which social and legal acceptance of same-sex marriage is increasing. However, Chambers’ acute analysis, which she intends, as she puts it at the start, “for everyone, regardless of marital status,” shows how even struggles for the state’s recognition of gay marriage elide injustices internal to heterosexual marriage and external injustices of marriage for those who cannot or choose not to be married, even once those struggles have been won. Chambers argues that the practical and symbolic effects of state-endorsed marriage inevitably privilege some people and some ways of life over others, violating both feminist and liberal principles. While not opposed to marriage as a social relationship, she powerfully demonstrates the ways that state-endorsed marriage undercuts equality and freedom, and the insufficiency of even the most progressive defenses of marriage as a politically credentialed institution. Equally impressive is the constructive aspect of her book. Chambers is a critic of state sanctifications of oppressive and/or exclusionary forms of intimate life, but she is an advocate of state power that supports individuals equally in their day-to-day endeavors and relationships. Her theory, which is practical yet visionary, delineates how practices that marriage bundles together (child-rearing, co-habitation, caring for elderly parents, joint property ownership, etc.) might be unbundled and justly regulated by the state to protect those engaged in or affected by them without privileging married couples. Her book demonstrates how the strengths of analytical political philosophy can be powerfully mobilized as a resource for motivating political change.

“Barbara Arneil presents an analysis that contributes conceptual innovation to current debates on colonialism and imperialism, innovations that are at once suggested and bolstered by her careful archival and secondary research into “domestic colonies.” The cases of domestic colonialism that Arneil highlights are agrarian labour colonies, farm colonies, and anti-capitalist or otherwise radical utopian communities that were created in North America and Europe, putatively to empower the idle poor, the disabled, and religiously, politically, and/or racially marginalized minority groups. In her investigations into such colonies, which in North America were implicated in settler colonial practices but are not reducible to those practices, she offers an exemplary model of how detailed historical work can drive conceptual rethinking in political theory. In analyzing the domestic colony as a technique of power underwritten by a logic of (often but not always coerced) improvement rather than a logic of exploitative domination, her work controversially disentangles imperialism and colonialism as a prelude to complicating our understanding of colonization, decolonization, and the postcolonial. While explicitly acknowledging the grave injustices of settler colonialism and imperialism in comparison with domestic colonialism, Arneil reveals the benefits of situating imperialism, settler colonialism, and domestic colonialism as sometimes intersecting and sometimes contrasting nodes of a complex “transnational colonial network.”  In this way, her work deepens both our grasp of the colonial past and re-problematizes our relation to colonialism’s long aftermath and continuing presence.”

Danny Reviews Against Marriage

You can read the review here.

“I found Chambers persuasive: Against Marriage compelled me to rethink some of my ideas on the subject and brought much greater precision to others. And even those who disagree with much more of it will have to engage with it, as an integrated and reasonably comprehensive analysis of how the state should approach marriage.”

Fabian Society on Against Marriage

Andrew Harrop, General Secretary of the Fabian Society, reviewed Against Marriage in Fabian Review, May 2018. You can read the full review here.

“Marriage makes me uncomfortable, whether the reason is political, historical, cultural or aesthetic. No matter how many married couples I see living modern equal relationships, for me, the whole concept is tainted by its patriarchal past. But I say ‘for me’ with good reason, as I have dozens of friends and comrades who disagree. This is a fault-line issue that divides socialists and feminists amongst themselves. In Against Marriage, Clare Chambers makes the case for why egalitarians and liberals should reject marriage. It is political philosophy at its most practical and readable.”

Against Marriage reviewed in Political Theory

Against Marriage is reviewed by Tamara Metz, author of Untying the Knot, in Political Theory. You can read the full review here. An excerpt follows.

“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.”

Against Marriage on BMJ blog

Richard Smith writes in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) blog that he is persuaded by the arguments of Against Marriage. You can read the full article here.

“Chambers is against marriage on the grounds of equality and liberty. Women are not equal with men within marriage, and the state by attaching a bundle of rights and duties to marriage creates a hierarchy of relationships with marriage at the top, making unmarried couples and single people inferior. Much of the population, including my wife and I, thinks that “common law wives” have similar rights to married women, but in fact they have none. By bundling rights and duties together, marriage (and civil partnerships) restrict autonomy; if they weren’t bundled people might choose different combinations of rights and duties.

“There is a need, Chambers accepted, for the law to regulate relationships, particularly to protect the vulnerable, but neither marriage nor civil partnership, which all the speakers criticised as being “one size fits all,” need to be that mechanism. She pointed out that parenthood might be a better basis for regulation than marriage, not least because parent-child relationships are more durable than couple relationships. Tatchell advocates a model whereby people would select “any significant other” (perhaps a best friend, sibling, or lover) and then choose among a menu of rights and duties. Such an arrangement would lead to greater equality and autonomy. All three speakers agreed that something along those lines would be better than either marriage or civil partnerships.

“And at dinner afterwards, my wife and I, despite being married for 40 years, agreed.”

 

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

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.

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).