They Who Marry Do Ill

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“The question now becomes: What is the growing ideal of human society, unconsciously indicated and un­con­scious­ly discerned and illuminated? By all the readings of progress, this indication appears to be the free individual; a society whose economic, political, social and sexual organization shall secure and constantly increase the scope of being to its several units; whose solidarity and continuity depend upon the free attraction of its component parts, and in no wise upon compulsory forms.

“Nothing is more disgustingly vulgar to me than the so-called sacrament of marriage; outraging of all delicacy in the trumpeting of private matters in the general ear. . . But it is neither the religious nor the civil ceremony that I refer to now . . . . The ceremony is only a form, a ghost, a meatless shell. By marriage I mean the real thing, the permanent relation of a man and a woman, sexual and economical, whereby the present home and family life is maintained. It is of no importance to me . . . whether it is blessed by a priest, permitted by a magistrate, con­tract­ed publicly or privately, or not contracted at all. It is the permanent dependent relationship which is detrimental to the growth of individual character. . . . I am [not] in the least con­cern­ed with the success of the marriage. . . . I am concerned with the success of love. And I believe that the easiest, surest and most applicable method of killing love is marriage. I believe that the only way to preserve love in anything like the ecstatic condition which renders it worthy of a distinctive name . . .  is to maintain the dist­anc­es.

“That love and respect may last, I would have unions rare and impermanent. That life may grow, I would have men and women remain separate personalities. Have no common possessions with your lover more than you might freely have with one not your lover. Because I believe that marriage stales love, brings respect into contempt, outrages all the privacies and limits the growth of both parties, I believe that ‘they who marry do ill. . . .’”

The lecture reprinted in this booklet was originally delivered by Voltairine de Cleyre at the Radical Liberal League, a social and intellectual dis­cuss­ion group in Philadelphia, on April 28, 1907. The next year, the text of the lecture was reprinted in Mother Earth II.11 (January 1908).

Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912) was a popular Anarchist and feminist writer, speaker and activist. Her contemporary and friend Emma Goldman called her “the most gifted and bril­liant anarchist woman America ever produced.” She pub­lish­ed tracts, dialogues, and stories in Liberty, Twentieth Century, Free Society and Mother Earth, and she worked closely with libertarian com­mun­ists, market anarchists, and mutual­ists within the Phila­delph­ia social an­arch­ist movement, but refused to commit herself to economic blueprints—first calling herself an “individualist” and later an “Anarchist, simply, without economic label attached,” adopting a plural­ist­ic view of economic arrangements in any future free soci­ety.

Introduced December 2012.

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