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What Is Marriage For? Pa [Paperback]

4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 6 2000
John Stuart Mill called marriage the first political institution most of us enter as adults. In a book that is always witty, often startling, E.J. Graff documents the many forms this institution has taken--while arguing forcefully for the legalization of same-sex marriage and shedding new light on such ongoing battles as equality between wives and husbands and the always contentious definition of family.

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From Amazon

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"What is marriage forAlike most serious political or social questionsAis a question about what it means to be fully human," contends Graff in her lively feminist treatise on why same-sex marriage should be legalized in the United States. Beginning with her own desire to be married to her partner, Madeline, and the (non-legal) ceremony they shared, she explores why people yearn to be married, the state's investment in such unions and why society might object to particular couplings. She contends that since marriage encourages hard work, fidelity and legitimate children and creates social parameters for sex, it's good for society. Given that it is, fundamentally, a matter of "individual spirit," Graff argues that same-sex partners should be able to share in these virtues. The book's strength lies in her well-researched and entertaining history of Western marriage. Revealing how social change has always preceded legal and religious change, she delineates how couplings we take for granted todayAsuch as marriages for love, marriages in which women work outside the home, those in which the partners use contraception for family planning or remain childless, and those between members of different races and religionsAwere all once thought to provide such extreme threats to the institution of marriage that critics claimed each would destroy it. Since none did, asserts Graff, same-sex marriage won't, either. Although her repeated summaries of "what marriage is for" and why it must include same-sex couples can become a bit tiresome, and her dismissals of alternative views don't always take into account their tenacity (she ultimately spurns as "doomsaying" the idea that marriage won't survive social change), on the whole Graff's argument is spirited and likely to generate discussion. (June)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and eye-opening July 9 2004
By A Customer
Like Graff, my daughter is a lesbian in a committed relationship, and it angers me that she is prohibited from marrying the person she loves. I was delighted to find this book exploring the changing purpose of marriage in the western world from Roman times to the present and read Graff's case that the battle over same-sex marriage is just the next iteration in a centuries-old line of views of what marriage is for.
Graff never claims that her book is a balanced history; she lets readers know right up front that she is gay and that her purpose for doing all the research and writing was to present her argument that same-sex marriage should be legal. Anyone (like an earlier reviewer) who is surprised by that simply wasn't paying attention.
Graff's writing is both informative and lively, with plenty of facts interspersed with anecdotes and human interest. I already agreed with her premise so I didn't need to be persuaded, but she makes her case so well that it's hard to see how anyone could read this book and still believe gay people should be denied the right to marry. Even for those who are already believe that, the book is well worth reading. Now I can back up my assertion that same-sex marriage should be legal with a persuasive argument based on historical fact: What conservatives call "traditional marriage" is actually less than 100 years old, and this is the logical next step in its evolution.
This is an excellent book that belongs on the bookshelf of everyone who believes in human rights.
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By A Customer
This book is a wonderful read. It talks about the history of marriage in a way that is incredibly engaging, and also grounded in careful historical research. There is no other book which presents the history of marriage in the US and Europe in this way; most such books are quite dry but not this one. The author uses the wide variety of functions of marriage over the years to craft a persuasive argument in favor of allowing marriage by same-gender couples. But the book is much more than that! It discusses religion, economics, law, and a host of other social phenomena as they have related to marriage over the centuries, in a format that is brilliantly organized and eminently readable. This book makes a great wedding present or birthday present. It is timely and important. Marriage is the subject of much public policy discussion these days, and this book gives readers an informed, nuanced perspective on the institution. It is especially strong in pointing out the ways that what many of us think of as "traditional marriage" has changed over the years. The author shows, in her entertaining way, that many of the things we take for granted as part of "traditional" marriage (like Love, for example), actually are rather recent additions to the elements of marriage. I highly recommend this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Finally: A woman's voice on same-sex marriage May 31 1999
As the debate over same-sex couples' freedom to marry rolls from state to state, much of the discussion is framed in terms of the "purpose" and "definition" of marriage. Opponents claim that legally recognizing same-sex couplehood will somehow change the definition of marriage, while proponents say that civil marriage (as opposed to religious concepts of marriage) merely reflects centuries of change.
Lesbian-feminist author E.J. Graff tackles that issue head on in her new book, "What is Marriage For?: The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution," due for release in June by Beacon Press.
Graff's book is a welcome addition to the debate, which, on the proponents' side, has been advanced almost wholly by men. The most public voice has been that of Andrew Sullivan, former editor of The New Republic. Sullivan certainly has his own appeal. He serves as an effective foil to social conservatives, because he can counter them in their own language. But the other voices --primarily constitutional attorneys and social critics -- have also been male.
When I heard that Graff was writing a book, I was instinctively pleased that a woman's view was finally to be added to the conversation. My only exposure to Graff's work has been through her many fine op-ed pieces; I suspected that she'd do a reasonably good job. However, op-ed writing is a specialized craft, keyed to the pithy observation, made in 500 words or fewer. Thus, I wasn't prepared for the depth of scholarship that Graff deftly wields in this book. Nor was I prepared for her skilled interweave of the personal, the wry, and the scholarly.
This book seems to flow directly from Graff's regard for her partner, Madeline, with attendant curiosity about the "fit" of her relationship in today's society.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic and Fascinating Jan. 28 2000
I picked up this book when I was having doubts about my friends' upcoming nuptials - I had hoped it would give them something to think about before they made that major step. I examined it more closely and realized it was a much more interesting book than that! The author has throroughly researched the various reasons marriage has existed as an institution (in Western civilization) and presents a compelling case in favor of same sex marriage as well. I was already in favor of same sex marriage, but now I have ammunition! It's lively, amazingly researched, and also full of facts you just don't get in history class. A must-read for social history buffs, gay-rights advocates, or anyone who wonders about relationships today.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
I really enjoyed this book and can't say enough good things about it. So I'll just leave it there for that. Read more
Published on April 5 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful, well-researched read
This is a great book. It is not only well-researched, but also witty, insightful, and a very engaging read. Read more
Published on April 1 2004 by Jennifer
3.0 out of 5 stars very informative but a little overdone
I was never that interested in the same-sex marriage debate until I learned of the legal protections that are automatically granted straight people when they marry. Read more
Published on Dec 22 2001 by "janevaningen"
2.0 out of 5 stars Not very enlightening.
I picked up this book for the history-of-marriage value instead of the same-sex-marriage-propaganda value, and found the history and debated "reasons why people have... Read more
Published on June 22 2001 by owookiee
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT read!
I expected this book to be kind of dry and boring, but it turned out to be absolutely fabulous. It is funny and eye-opening. Read more
Published on Sept. 21 1999 by Kaitin D. Sherwood
1.0 out of 5 stars What is this world coming to? An end.
People who are sick in the head and don't know it used to be called insane. See how our society is changing? Read more
Published on Aug. 3 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, surprising, AND engagingly funny!
What a pleasure to find a highly readable social history that's as illuminating as it is entertaining. Read more
Published on July 24 1999
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