It always bothers me when people try to frame something (anything, really) as being completely separate and detached from politics. Because politics aren’t restricted to questions of how and where we spend money… Politics encompass our values and beliefs as humans. Politics have the power to elevate people or oppress them. Politics are where we see others’ compassion, or their disregard for others. The personal is political, and politics are extremely personal. To have the ability to claim that you’re “not into politics”, or to be an aggressively non-political person, is a privilege in itself. If you have the option to be non-political, it’s because you don’t need to be.
Weddings and marriage are political. They always have been.
Historically, it was extremely common for us to get married for political reasons over romantic ones. The ruling or upper classes often married for political alliances, large-scale resources, property, and money. This was similar for the lower classes, although the flavour was a little different: Money and resources were still a valid reason for marriage. But rather than entire countries, territories, or domains, marriage granted some ownership over acres of land or individual properties. While both the rich and the poor may have married for financial stability, the stakes were usually higher for the poor. The risks ran by the wealthy were more often about social standing and planning for the future, where the risks faced by the poor were about survival- “Will me and my children live through a long Winter?” and “Will my family have to live in poverty for the rest of our lives?”.
Additionally, marriage has largely been a religious institution. And trying to keep politics out of religion is like trying to keep food out of a kitchen.
Marriage has not been a right afforded to everyone, but a privilege granted to some. Same-sex marriages have only been legal in North American since the early 2000’s if you’re in Canada, or 2015 if you’re in the States. Historically, many transgender individuals have not been able to legally marry the person they love, because the law would only recognize them as the gender they were assigned at birth (this still happens in many places today). There is also a very, very long history of interracial and interfaith lovers being denied the right to marry in a plethora of countries. Non-monogamous people are still unable to legally marry more than one person in much of the world. Disabled individuals are often unable to marry anyone because if they do, they will lose the much-needed financial assistance given to them by the government. Because when it comes down to it, marriage is still legally seen as a matter of ownership and responsibility.
The idea that marriage equals ownership might feel antiquated, but the idea still pervades a lot of social conditioning that we engage in today. For example: If a man is flirting with a woman, what’s more likely to get him to stop? A simple “no”? Or an “I’m married”? I personally know a few women who wear fake wedding bands for exactly this reason. I’ve been in this spot myself, multiple times. It’s infuriating and dehumanizing. Because despite how far we’ve come, women are still viewed as “belonging to” a man in a lot of scenarios.
Adjacent to the idea that marriage means ownership is the idea that marriage means responsibility, or dependency. As in, who is responsible for whom? Who is dependent on whom? This isn’t exclusive to the typical, 1950’s-inspired picture we get in our heads of a husband who works full time and has to support his wife, who is a homemaker and mother to their two-and-a-half children (stay-at-home parent & house spouse is a full-time job, paid or not). The most easily recognizable form of this is found in the marriages of people with disabilities. When the government removes the benefits of a disabled individual when they get married, they’re addressing their new spouse and saying, “This person is your responsibility, now. Not ours.” This is an absolutely atrocious, callous way to treat those with disabilities, and it puts them and their partners in an unacceptably inequitable position.
As if the legality of marriage wasn’t enough, the wedding industry is absolutely filled with politically-charged rhetoric. Weddings are an incredibly personal event in people’s lives, and the wedding industry takes advantage of that to push narratives that range from subtle and insidious to overtly harmful. We see a hundred and one shades of misogyny in the expectations we place on The Bride™, from diet culture to the “Bridezilla” archetype to the assumption that she should be feminine, obsessed with her wedding, blissfully happy, ready to take her (male) partner’s name… or that she’s even a she, to begin with. We see racism in the consistent exclusion of racialized people in wedding media, and in the blatant colourism when we do see them. We see fat people, trans people, and older people suspiciously absent in portfolios and advertisements… And good luck finding any representation of non-monogamous relationships outside of a small handful of “alternative” blogs or social media pages. Not to mention, the sheet cost of some of these “wedding necessities” is blindingly high. The pressure we put on people to have extravagant weddings, or to spend money on things that they “need” to kick off their marriage is absolutely wild. Pushing the current “Big White Wedding” as the norm is harmful to those who don’t have the means to pay for it. What should be an option is now a damaging expectation.
(As an aside, can I just express my disgust with the fact that plantation weddings are, apparently, still a thing? I don’t care how pretty the building is. Plantations are sites of death, enslavement, and genocide. It wouldn’t be appropriate to get married at a former internment or concentration camp. It wouldn’t be appropriate to get married at a residential school. It isn’t appropriate to get married at a plantation.)
You may not consider your wedding political. But weddings and marriage as a concept are political. They have always been political, especially considering the influence of class and religion. Even if we attempt to separate those influences today (which we can’t), they will still continue to be political, if for no other reason than the legal ramifications of getting married.