Marriage Is Like Lye Poured on a Petri Dish

Mark Greif wants to end marriage, family, sexual identification

This article is from the archive of our partner .

AUTHOR: Mark Greif writing in N+1

THESIS: Gay marriage killed the "social utopia" where everyone is bisexual and family is banned

LENGTH: 4,137 words, five times the CBO health care report

FIRST SENTENCE: "Gays are our utopian heroes."

MOST IMPORTANT EVENT OF 20TH CENTURY: "That men could choose men for love objects, and women choose women, to remake the sexual household"

FAMILIES: "The origin of violence, hierarchy, and tyranny."

FEMINISM: "Ought to be the most honored term in our language, but has somehow become as risible to Americans as 'civilization' was to the Ostrogoths."

MARRIAGE: "The division of humanity into closed couples, when modernity has given us a chance at something much better--affiliation by manifold currents of love, interest, and likeness which overflow the monogamous male-female dyad."

ABORTION IS LIKE: "Sports medicine and hotels"

WHAT TV NEEDS: "Sentimental pro-abortion commercials"

WHY MARRIAGE SUCKS: "Marriage is lye poured upon the petri dish of the new relations of erotic sociality."

IF SEXUAL UTOPIA DOESN'T PAN OUT, WE'VE ALWAYS GOT: "Simulacra of the old bowling leagues, or Odd Fellows Hall, or ladies' club luncheons."


The appeal to anomie simply ignores, post-1960s, the emotional capacities we've gained. We now resist atomization and anomie with the wide range of unusually warm, non-exclusive and simultaneous friendships, often verging on erotism but not compelled to it, both across and within the sexes, and among straights and gays--this extraordinary birthright the '60s gave to all those of us born, say, after 1969. The range is better than any narrowing. The multiplicity of friendships trumps the marriage structure. Yet these relations really survive, and thrive, only until marriage begins to clear its throat, and they are jeopardized by the cowardly constraints of couplehood. Marriage is lye poured upon the petri dish of the new relations of erotic sociality.

For better and worse (and for richer and for poorer), marriage is also almost inevitably intolerable to any post-'60s individual who counts the accumulation of strong experience and passionate feeling as the sine qua non of meaningful existence.


We have no better model for a bodily process that, fundamentally, is free and universal. It does not produce (there is no experiential remainder but pleasure) nor consume. It is cooperative (within the relation of the lovers) and, in that relation, seems to forbid competition. It makes you love people, and accept the look and difference of their bodies. Production comes back in with pregnancy and "labor"--that's why contraception means so much. Competition can come back in with the conquest of partners, and a brutality or technical objectivity in lovemaking that allows men to remake cooperation as if it were struggle--hence utopians' funny, sentimental insistence on love in the act. Sexual cooperation is the other side of our basic human nature, and matches and disarms economic competition. Conservatives look to the chimpanzees, utopians to bonobos. One viewpoint prefers that side of our evolutionary ancestry that punches and rapes; the other that side, of equal propinquity, that rubs genitals and makes out.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.