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What is Marriage For? [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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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book April 6 2004
By A Customer
I really enjoyed this book and can't say enough good things about it. So I'll just leave it there for that. However, I would like to make an observation on what others have said about this book: It's only the straight people who think that Graff "overdoes it sometimes" or "beats people over the head with.(..)" her remarks on same-sex marriage. This is yet another example of how straight people just can let it go. Please, for once, stop trying to control the lives of gay people. Let us love in peace. You people are the ones with all the power in the world. You have absolutely no room to talk. You can't even dream of what it is like to be hated and oppressed. (...)
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful, well-researched read April 1 2004
This is a great book. It is not only well-researched, but also witty, insightful, and a very engaging read. It's impressive how accessible Graff has made this material; there's a lot of very detailed information packed into a small book, but it's never dry or difficult to read. Her arguments in favor of same-sex marriage are thoughtful and very well-reasoned -- I now feel much better prepared for discussing same-sex marriage with family and friends.
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3.0 out of 5 stars very informative but a little overdone Dec 23 2001
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. Graff's history of marriage is very illuminating and her argument for same-sex marriage is persuasive, but she does tend to beat the reader over the head with it at times. Similarly, I enjoyed Graff's biting witticisms but also found it was overdone at times.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Not very enlightening. June 23 2001
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 historically married" to be rather uninformative. A lot of what was said seemed common knowledge about basic history of society. Marriage concepts are talked about generally more often than not. I would have liked to see more hard core facts rather than musings and contemplations. I was hoping for statistics to be sprinkled liberally, and perhaps many tales of certain marriages in the past that stood out either as especially abnormal for a time period, or exceedingly typical.
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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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