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What Is Marriage For?: The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution
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What Is Marriage For?: The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  113 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
In the wake of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's historic Goodridge decision, a reissue of the bible of the same-sex marriage movement

Will same-sex couples destroy "traditional" marriage, soon to be followed by the collapse of all civilization? That charge has been leveled throughout history whenever the marriage rules change. But marriage, as E. J. Graff shows in
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Paperback, 328 pages
Published March 18th 2004 by Beacon Press (first published March 18th 1999)
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Chris Antonsen
Aug 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Every American should read this. Having a modicum of well-informed grasp of social and cultural institutions we mostly take for granted makes you stronger and more powerful as a citizen and neighbor.
Jesse
Aug 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
"What Is Marriage For?" is, on the surface, a brief overview of the history of marriage. Underneath, a case for marriage equality, particularly with respect to gender and orientation. The author, E.J. Graff, describes when and how religious institutions have been involved in marriage, the relation of marriage and family structure to work and how that changed relation due to the Industrial Revolution, and how closely the evolution of marriage has been tied to the struggle for women's rights and e ...more
Heather
Jun 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: cultural-history
This book was written by a gay-marriage advocate seeking a better understanding of what she is fighting for, but any thinking person, gay or straight, should be interested in the answer to her central question:
"Is marriage a worthy goal-- or a way of forcing people to squeeze their lives and dreams into too-small boxes? Is civil marriage, which locks private affections into an intimate relationship with the state, an institution I want to enter? Is marriage a patriarchal hangover, useful only to
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Mariana Ferreira
Jan 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
A fascinating account on the history of the marriage institution and an argument for gay marriage that is every bit as resonant today as when it was written.
Kathryn
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Too long. Almost every chapter talks about same sex marriage.

I would not recommend this book. The content should have been distilled into fewer pages and the topic kept drifting needlessly back toward gay marriage so much so that I think it was unfair to the reader to not mention gay marriage in the title or subtitle of the book. I most enjoyed the parts talking about the history of marriage in Rome, German tribes, etc.
Kirby
Jun 22, 2013 rated it liked it
I read this a) because Dan Savage recommended it as one of the essential books re. same-sex marriage arguments and b) because I often ask myself that titular question: what IS marriage for? This book is definitely a very comprehensive, informative history of marriage in the Western world and its many purposes and evolutions over the years, and after reading it, you can come to your own understanding of what marriage is for, which is the point, I guess.

I would say this is not an awesome or mind-b
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Ellen Taylor
May 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What a fascinating, insightful journey through the history and various purposes of marriage as a social institution! Amazing how we take for granted the cultural experiences of today, as if things were always "this way"! The author is a lesbian, arguing for same-sex marriage rights, and concludes this way: "... Changing a given rule changes the very definition of marriage.... Define marriage as a lifetime commitment, and divorce flouts its very definition. Define marriage as a vehicle for legiti ...more
Clare
Dec 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a fascinating and informative read. Graff explores the way in which marriage has changed throughout history, particularly the different methods people have used to evaluate whether a relationship is a marriage or not. The book deals almost exclusively with western cultures, but Graff does explain that it is because the book's purpose is largely to argue for the legalization of gay marriage in the culture that has grown out of those traditions.

The only time I really got annoyed at the b
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Ulrich
Jun 15, 2011 rated it liked it
A fascinating and frequently hilarious tour through the history of "traditional" marriage, or rather, why exactly the phrase "traditional marriage" is an utter oxymoron. Ms. Graff shows how at every advance in the freedom of marriage, from the people actually getting married having a say in the matter at all to interracial marriage, fundies have cried that civilization should surely end. Today women can turn down suitors even if their fathers like them. Today people with differently pigmented sk ...more
Kate
Jan 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Ellen, Mary, Miriam, Jen S., Casey, my mother, my daughters
Picked it up at the Library book sale and dived in to this accessible and fascinating history of marriage in the Western world for the past 2000-ish years. Graff specifically examines each of the traditional things marriage is "for", and how the understanding of those things changed over time and ends each section on why exactly the contemporary understanding should not rationally exclude same-sex marriage.

Originally written on the eve of the Vermont court decision that paved the way for same-se
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Kate
Jun 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book for the history-of-marriage value rather than the same-sex-marriage value, and found the history and debated "reasons why people have historically married" to be slightly less helpful than I'd hoped. Still an interesting read, though.

As a side note, I now live in a place which allows same-sex marriage and also makes common-law marriage status relatively easy to attain and also allows a lot of the same benefits of marriage to people in same-sex or heterosexual relationships
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D
Jan 28, 2013 rated it liked it
The author begins by answering the question "what is marriage for" rather bluntly: Marriage is always about money. The rest of the book supports that thesis, and traces the shifts from marriage for money, for procreation, and its current flavor: for love. The definition of marriage allows possibilities of divorce, contraception, feminism, and same-sex unions. The book ends with a call to pay rigorous attention to -- and believe in -- each individual spirit.

Devorah
Sep 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Graff lays out chapters on marriage to transfer property, preserve family connections, legitimize children, provide religious sancification, and even for love with lots of historical detail. I wish she'd mentioned marriage outside of the Western European model -- especially in Judaism, Islam, and the East.
Kelly
May 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This was a great historical and sociological look at why various groups in western culture have or have not believed in marriage, and whether or not those reasons are still valid today. It provides a very biased but encouraging argument that same-sex marriage should be legalized in the west based on the [interesting and humorous:] historical and present day evidence in the book.
Aubrey
Jun 05, 2013 marked it as to-read
Recommended by Dan Savage
Jordan
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is informative for those who support and oppose same-sex marriage. It reviews the purposes for marriage in different periods of (western) history.
Rachel
Jun 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Vital read! Fantastic!
Seán
Nov 28, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, 2008, sociology
Not the best writing ever put to paper, but good backgrounder for unavoidable arguments, and for taunting gay-bashing street corner lunatics.
Christina Stenstrom
May 18, 2007 marked it as to-read
Recommended by Savage in The Commitment
Mell
Traces the history of why people marry: for wealth, for political reasons, for love. Also examines the limitations of marriage: exclusion of GLBT marriage.
Jeff
Jun 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book on some of the history of marriage and political change, and a damn good argument, overall, for gay marriage.
Charles Peterson
Aug 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gay
Eye-opening!
Natalya
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