On mother’s names and marriage certificates

Let me start by saying I don’t just have a problem with every feminist petition on change dot org. Heck, I’ve linked to a fair few in my time. I just have an issue with a certain streak of liberal feminism, the high-profile sound and noise which makes a big media impact because even if a campaign is won, nothing will change.

The latest of this ilk that has bothered me is a petition to put mothers’ names on marriage certificates as well as fathers’. As with much of this brand of feminism, on the face of it, it sounds perfectly reasonable, a step towards equality. However, what this all fails to understand is what marriage actually is. Historically, marriage is a political arrangement, to join bloodlines. It is a relic of a patrilineal society, and by existing, it continues to keep the old ways alive. It comes as no surprise, then, that it is only fathers on the marriage certificate, because it is only fathers who matter throughout the way we frame lineage. Lineage itself is very literally patriarchal.

Let us imagine for a second that this campaign was won–which seems plausible given it’s such a minor tweak to the system. The mother’s name now appears on a marriage certificate. But who’s name is the mother’s name? Odds are, it won’t be hers. If your mother married your father and took his name, then she has his name. If your mother has her “own” last name for any reason, that comes from her father or some other male ancestor. This is how lineage works: as women, almost all of us have names conferred on us by men, save for the very few who are awesome enough to carve out their own true names. Therefore, to put a mother’s name on a marriage certificate is simply to add more detail about the male line.

There are far better uses for our time. I ought to remind readers at this point that I am far more in favour of completely abolishing marriage than I am of reforming it to make it marginally more inclusive. I think we should solve the problems which require people to marry: to preserve immigration status, to confer next-of-kin status, and various tax and income perks. Make it easy to do these things without marriage, then grind the whole patriarchal institution into dust. Stop the state from dictating how we form families, and create something beautiful and new.

I realise I’m an idealist here, and so I also offer a more pragmatic solution to equality on marriage certificates: do away with naming parents entirely. It’s bizarre and dated that, in 2014, one still needs to mention who owned those getting married before a transfer of ownership. Why not get rid of this archaic requirement entirely?

This would have more benefits than adding a mother’s name. There are a lot of people who are estranged from their parents, for good reasons. Their parents are irrelevant to their lives, so why should there be any need to acknowledge their existence simply to get married? There are benefits for everyone in getting rid of parents’ names on marriage certificates: it chips away, ever so gently, at the patrilineal foundations of marriage itself. This is also just as easy a minor tweak to marriage as putting another name on the certificate.

And maybe after we’ve done that, we can abolish marriage completely?