American Marriage

American Marriage: A Political Institution

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 224
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    American Marriage
    Book Description:

    As states across the country battle internally over same-sex marriage in the courts, in legislatures, and at the ballot box, activists and scholars grapple with its implications for the status of gays and lesbians and for the institution of marriage itself. Yet, the struggle over same-sex marriage is only the most recent political and public debate over marriage in the United States. What is at stake for those who want to restrict marriage and for those who seek to extend it? Why has the issue become such a national debate? These questions can be answered only by viewing marriage as a political institution as well as a religious and cultural one. In its political dimension, marriage circumscribes both the meaning and the concrete terms of citizenship. Marriage represents communal duty, moral education, and social and civic status. Yet, at the same time, it represents individual choice, contract, liberty, and independence from the state. According to Priscilla Yamin, these opposing but interrelated sets of characteristics generate a tension between a politics of obligations on the one hand and a politics of rights on the other. To analyze this interplay, American Marriage examines the status of ex-slaves at the close of the Civil War, immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century, civil rights and women's rights in the 1960s, and welfare recipients and gays and lesbians in the contemporary period. Yamin argues that at moments when extant political and social hierarchies become unstable, political actors turn to marriage either to stave off or to promote political and social changes. Some marriages are pushed as obligatory and necessary for the good of society, while others are contested or presented as dangerous and harmful. Thus political struggles over race, gender, economic inequality, and sexuality have been articulated at key moments through the language of marital obligations and rights. Seen this way, marriage is not outside the political realm but interlocked with it in mutual evolution.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0664-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Marriage as a Political Institution
    (pp. 1-20)

    For weeks during the summer of 2010, activists, pundits, and legal scholars paid close attention as the California Supreme Court heard testimony for and against the right to same-sex marriage in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger. When the decision to overturn the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage came down, one of the plaintiffs, Kristin M. Perry, said, “This decision says that we are Americans, too. We too should be treated equally. Our family is just as loving, just as real and just as valid as anyone else’s.” Theodore Olson, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, called the...

    • Chapter 1 The “Duties as Well as Privileges of Freedom”
      (pp. 23-46)

      After the Civil War, agents of the federal Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen’s Bureau), charged with inculcating former slaves with the precepts of freedom and American citizenship, imposed policies designed to teach African Americans the benefits and obligations of marriage. Also during this period, anti-interracial marriage laws were actively upheld in southern and northern courts as necessary to the protection and maintenance of “civilization.” Thus, while ex-slaves were being pressed into one kind of marriage, they were legally prohibited from another, in both cases as the price of freedom and citizenship.

      The period of Reconstruction (1863...

    • Chapter 2 “What Constitutes a Valid Marriage?”
      (pp. 47-70)

      In an 1881 essay that won a New York University Law School prize, lawyer Charles Noble lamented “the contradictory and indefinite rules which come to us from various parts of the United States, when we ask this most fundamental of questions, ‘What constitutes a valid marriage?’”¹ Noble’s anxiety reflected not merely growing concern over the inconsistency in American marriage rules. It also anticipated the more general impulse of many Progressive Era reformers who sought greater uniformity in American law, policy, and social practices. From 1880 to 1920, state marriage laws became part of a larger codification battle that was occurring...

    • Chapter 3 “Marriage Is One of the Basic Civil Rights of Man”
      (pp. 73-98)

      Chief Justice Earl Warren, writing for the majority in Loving v. Virginia in 1967, asserted that “marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival.”¹ The court claimed that antimiscegenation statutes deprived Mildred and Richard Loving of liberty without due process of law. The state of Virginia could not deny “this fundamental freedom” on the unsupportable basis of race: marriage as a civil right could not be restricted by race. This ruling was seen as a major step forward in race politics. It reflected one aspect of the development of the country...

    • Chapter 4 “Marriage Is the Foundation of a Successful Society”
      (pp. 99-121)

      The political and cultural challenges sparked in the 1960s and early 1970s by the civil rights movement, feminism, gay liberation, and the counterculture congealed by the 1990s into what came to be known as the “culture wars.” The term, as employed by conservatives, was meant to evoke a historic conflict pitting those Americans who believed in a nation of traditional heterosexual two-parent families, religious morality, law and order, and economic independence against feminists, gays and lesbians, criminals, rioters, welfare cheats, and those who mocked the Christian values upon which the nation rested. Marriage became a major front in these wars....

    • Chapter 5 “We’re in a Battle for the Soul of the Nation”
      (pp. 122-146)

      In the wake of the 1996 PRWORA and DOMA legislation, two major developments in the political institution of marriage challenged the settlements temporarily secured by those landmark acts. One was the emergence of a national Marriage Movement, a phenomenon expressed at the local, state, and national level, and articulated across academic, public, private, and religious spheres. A second was the emergence of same-sex marriage at the forefront of lesbian and gay activism and as a central conflict in domestic politics. The debates around marriage that began in the 1990s intensified and became much more publicized. The struggle over same-sex marriage...

  7. Conclusion: “Is There Hope for the American Marriage?”
    (pp. 147-154)

    I set out in this project with two central aims: to understand the role of marriage in U.S. politics, and to understand the role of U.S. politics in marriage. I approached these questions historically in order to examine the development of each in relation to the other, giving particular emphasis to moments of major change in U.S. politics. What I found was a patterned tension between marital obligations and rights, a tension that defined marriage in a series of passionate conflicts across the eras I examined. I was thus led to a series of interlinked questions: Why do Americans find...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 155-184)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-196)
  10. Index
    (pp. 197-210)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 211-212)