Mike Kueber's Blog

March 21, 2012

Arranged and forced marriages

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 4:30 am
Tags: , , ,

Although it may seem that arranged marriages are antediluvian practices that no longer exist in modern life, I was surprised to learn from two Indian-American friends in San Antonio (one Muslim and the other Hindu) that the practice continues to thrive within their communities in America.  In fact, Wikipedia makes an elaborate defense of the practice:

  • Proponents of arranged marriage often feel that people can quite easily be influenced by emotional infatuation to make an illogical choice.  In these societies, the intragenerational relationship of the family is much more valued than the marital relationship. The whole purpose of the marriage is to have a family.  Even if the couple does not love each other at first, a greater understanding between the two would develop, aided by their often similar socioeconomic, religious, political, and cultural backgrounds.  Proponents may also feel that marriages simply based on romance are doomed to failure due to the partners having unreasonable expectations of each other and with the relationship having little room for improvement.  Furthermore, supporters of arranged marriages believe that parents can be trusted to make a match that is in the best interests of their children. They hold that parents have much practical experience to draw from and not be misguided by emotions and hormones. 

But the practice of arranged marriages is so antithetical to Western values, as is polygamy, that there is an inclination to prohibit it.  In the West, “love marriages” are considered to be the only civilized option.  The problem is that any prohibition on arranged marriages would not only be inconsistent with Western tolerance, but would also impinge on freedom of religion.  That is why governments attempt to make a distinction between arranged marriage (OK) and forced marriages (not OK). 

According to a recent article in the NY Times, titled “On Human Bondage,” a forced marriage was one in which a party married under “physical or psychological pressure.”  By contrast, an arranged marriage was one in which “someone other than the couple getting married makes the selection of the persons to be wed, meanwhile curtailing or avoiding the process of courtship.” 

Obviously, distinguishing between arranging a marriage and psychologically pressuring one to marry is problematic at best, but that hasn’t stopped Great Britain from trying.  The Times article reports that Great Britain is criminalizing forced marriages, but suggests that this move “has been more about savvy politics than values. And Cameron’s political opportunism may backfire by alienating British Muslims and undermining his government’s commitment to multiculturalism.”  Furthermore, some advocacy groups argue that criminalization could discourage victims from speaking out for fear that their relatives will be prosecuted under the law.  In response, the government has asserted that a forced marriage is “little more than slavery.”

The author of the Times article, Huma Yusuf, concluded the article by suggesting that, “chances are, no legislation can be as effective in curtailing forced marriages as growing awareness and empowerment within the affected communities themselves.”  I agree.  Let’s hope that true conservatives will not countenance any effort by government to interject itself in the marital decisions of its citizens.


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