I Found the State in my Bedroom
By Avinoam Ben Zeev
I recently saw a play, “Café Arava”, by Goren Agmon. It tells the type of story that is popularly told about the kibbutz these days. A decorated, handicapped war veteran comes home with his physiotherapist, and it looks like they are romantically involved. His wife left him before, to the USA. The kibbutz, or more specifically, the wife’s mother who enlists the whole kibbutz to her aid, does everything to kick the physiotherapist out.
Dror Shaul’s film “Sweet Mud” tells a similar story. A kibbutz member who is widowed is awaiting the kibutz’s permission to bring home the foreign citizen she fell in love with. The kibbutz approves, and then expels them. The audience is, of course, shocked by the socialist cruelty.
I am a kibbutz descendant, a former kibbutz member, and I object to the generalizing tone of these stories. In our kibbutz a husband and wife who were tired of each other turned to the apartment committee and asked for another apartment, and that was that - no more active marriage. The basic question still applies: should society be such a present part of the bedroom? How is the kibbutz different from the State?
Why go all the way to the quickly disappearing kibbutz way of life? The state interferes with our marriages as well. Notice this partial list: The state forbids or limits marriage of minors, same sex couples, bigamists and polygamists, members of different religions, the prime minister’s assassin, Israeli and Palestinian Arabs. How is the kibbutz different than the state? The kibbutz looks good compared to the state in this case.
I guess this would be the place to yell something like “what kind of comparison is that?” If we examine the details we will see that the very existence of the institution of marriage is an opening to an unnecessary and invasive involvement of society. The wedding ceremony is a relic from ancient days. It serves no practical purpose. Practically speaking, we can manage without it. We might be better off, even.
Why not bigamy?
It is customary to think that the institution of marriage is the most effective way to protect children. It guarantees, as much as it can, that they will have a mother and father. It is also customary to think that it takes care of women: LSess exploitation of women, and more equal rights.
History brings us proof: Most of the western world does not allow multiple wives, which is considered to diminish women, and underage girls are no longer sold to the highest bidder. Love, it is perceived, triumphs partially with the assistance of the marriage law. Today, men’s rights are also part of the discussion.
All this is right to a point, but it comes with a price. We are forfeiting the life of the individual. Why, for example, should bigamy be forbidden today? If three adults are interested in a bigamist life of their own consent and free will, what is the point of forbidding it? Why appoint a guardian to the estate of a clear minded 80 year old woman who wants to marry a 50 year old man?
The ever present reasoning of “they don’t know what they want” is an insult to the adult individual. People know what they want according to their level of maturity. Tradition and possibly morality are not the standard for determining clarity of mind.
If the kibbutz is often criticized for its invasiveness, why not criticize the state as well? What did the kibbutz want, bringing apart the handicapped man and his physiotherapist? That man was married to a kibbutz member. Her mother, a woman of many good qualities, was hurt to the bottom of her soul. She wanted her whole family to gather at her house every day at four and have cheesecake, a very human urge. Kibbutz members could not remain indifferent to the destruction of her family. Why not help her?
The answer to that question and to the state is the same: sympathy, compassion, a will to help and moral and cultural values do not justify intervening in the family life of the individual, unless it involves minors or criminal violence.
How can the rights of the individual be maintained without the invasion of the bedroom? We have a very useful tool for this in this state: the agreement. I will even be bold enough to use the term “business partnership”. Two business partners do not have to marry each other to assure the rights of each one in the partnership. Their agreement, backed by the general laws of the state, can guarantee their rights. You can feel protected without marriage
People who want to create a familial partnership between two, three or even more will sign an agreement. They will add any items they want to this agreement, in sound mind and free will. They can fee protected without getting married. If they do want a traditional marriage agreement, they can sign one witnessed by whoever they please. The default choice is changing. A free agreement between emotional partners is not an imitation of marriage. Marriage is the imitation of the free agreement.
Everything is open now: A man with a man, a woman with a woman, two women and one man, one woman with two men, or more, in any direction you wish, with as many side options as the agreement allows. It is like any business agreement, and without the title of “marriage”, unless you choose to add this specifically.
Agreements cannot overcome all problems, but neither can religious marriages. That is why we have general laws. The law against sexual harassment, for example, protects women more than married life. Today it has a power that even the lawmakers did not imagine. Some might criticize it for its over-involvement in personal lives, but the idea is clear: there is no need to be registered as married to protect women. Or men. On the contrary, if there is one thing that complicates a woman’s right to her body is the institution of marriage.
The difference is the degree of invasion
Marriage has become a matter of religion and tradition. Today, the institution of marriage protects a certain culture more than it protects the husband, wife or kids. We should leave it to those interested in it. Today, after disconnecting the traditional bonds between sex and marriage, this tradition does not carry with it the civil protection it once did.
Marriage does indeed grant other rights, such as easier taxation, inheritance and citizenship, but these can also be granted according to binding agreements which define social status. This is a technical matter, and not a fundamental one.
The difference between relationships by consensual agreement and relationships by religious bonds is the degree of invasion of privacy.
Relationships by agreement can protect the individual at least as well as religious relationships, and as I said, probably better. Marriage, much like sexual relations, is a private matter. The state has no business with it, unless the people involved turn to the state for assistance, according to general laws.