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Marriage Proposals

Marriage Proposals: Questioning a Legal Status

EDITED BY Anita Bernstein
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Marriage Proposals
    Book Description:

    The essays in Marriage Proposals envision a variety of scenarios in which adults would continue to join themselves together seeking permanent companionship and sustenance, linking sexual intimacy to a long commitment, usually caring for each other, and building new families. What would disappear are the legal consequences associated with marriage. No joint income tax return; no immigration privileges like the fiancee visa or the right to bring in a husband or wife; no special statuses for prison visits or hospital decisions; no prerogative to remain silent in court by claiming confidential marital communications; no pension entitlements; no marital benefits and detriments regarding criminal or civil liability.The anthology makes a unique contribution amid the two marriage furors of the day: same-sex marriage and the Bush Administration's marriage movement (that marrying is good and more marriages would be better for society). Abolishing the legal category of marriage is the only policy suggestion in current American discourse that speaks to both causes. Activists on both sides of the same-sex marriage fight, along with marriage movement partisans, all seek improvement through law reform. Marriage Proposals gives them a viable reform - abolition of marriage as a legal status - for fighting battles in the courtroom and the streets.Contributors include Anita Bernstein, Peggy Cooper Davis, Martha Albertson Fineman, Linda C. McClain, Marshall Miller, Lawrence Rosen, Mary Lyndon Shanley, and Dorian Solot.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8647-5
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Questioning Marriage
    (pp. 1-26)
    Anita Bernstein

    The same query kept recurring: Why marriage? Historian George Chauncey raised the question in his 2004 book title. Evan Wolfson chose a declarative version,Why Marriage Matters, for the title of his own book, also published in 2004. Launched five years earlier, when E. J. Graff named her bookWhat Is Marriage For?, the marriage-interrogation genre settled into place in 2004 and began to grow.

    The year 2004 was a big marriage-policy year away from the bookshelves, too. Consider the political and legal landscape. In July 2004, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Marriage Protection Act, a law...

  5. PART I: Challenges to the Status of Marriage

    • Chapter 1 The Meaning of Marriage
      (pp. 29-69)
      Martha Albertson Fineman

      This chapter asks the question, Given changes in the legal regulation of marriage, coupled with changing patterns of intimate behavior, why should marriage continue to be the exclusive, preferred core or basic family connection? It is marriage that is asserted to be the tie that defines which families are legitimate.

      For some critics of the status quo, the issue is the inclusion of alternatives to the husband-wife dyad within the category of marriage. For others, the question is marriage itself as a legal construct that carries with it significant societal benefits. Why should marriage be so privileged? Some proponents of...

    • Chapter 2 Taking Government Out of the Marriage Business: Families Would Benefit
      (pp. 70-105)
      Dorian Solot and Marshall Miller

      Marriage in the United States is a bundle of contradictions. Nine out of ten of us marry at least once in our lives (Kreider and Fields 2002, 16), and 96 percent of college freshmen say they hope to marry someday (Louis Harris and Associates 1998). We delight in throwing the most lavish, elaborate weddings of any culture in history, typically spending on the Big Day nearly as much as the average American earns in a year (Gillis 1996; Ingraham 1999). Weddings sell movie tickets and fuel an entire genre of glossy magazines thick with advertisements. More than three-quarters of people...

    • Chapter 3 What Place for Marriage (E)quality in Marriage Promotion?
      (pp. 106-144)
      Linda C. McClain

      The place of marriage in a just and fair constitutional democracy reverberates as one of the most challenging questions posed in debates over family law and policy. What is government’s interest in intimate affiliation and in families? Should the fate of the institution of marriage be government’s central concern in regulating the family? On the one hand, some voices urge that government should properly support and promote marriage, defined as the union of one man and one woman, as the proxy for the form of family best able to undergird our polity by allowing realization of the goods associated with...

  6. PART II: Some Perils of Attempting Abolition

    • Chapter 4 Anthropological Perspectives on the Abolition of Marriage
      (pp. 147-170)
      Lawrence Rosen

      Every discipline has its own conceit. And every discipline has attributed to it by others its presumed utility to the latters’ own designs. The anthropological conceit is that it is the universal donor of academe: there is an anthropology of everything. And, perhaps as a sign of its success in promoting this conceit, other disciplines seem to think that there is almost always an anthropological perspective that can assist in the furtherance of their own claims. The resulting merger of conceits naturally has its benefits and its liabilities. Anthropologists get invited to everything, but like the too-traveled cousin or resident...

    • Chapter 5 Marriage as a “Badge and Incident” of Democratic Freedom
      (pp. 171-187)
      Peggy Cooper Davis

      This chapter lies in the company of deeply thoughtful critiques of marriage. I begin somewhat defensively, narrowing my focus and claims so as to make of myself a smaller target. My focus is African Americans’ embrace of family, both during slavery and immediately after Emancipation. More precisely, I consider two related phenomena: the profound but legally unrecognized intimate relationships through which enslaved people made social meaning during slavery, and the simultaneously political and personal marriages by which people who had won freedom seized the opportunity to make meaning in more recognized and public ways. I read the family affiliations of...

    • Chapter 6 The State of Marriage and the State in Marriage: What Must Be Done
      (pp. 188-216)
      Mary Lyndon Shanley

      Few topics stir more passion than efforts to effect political and legal changes concerning marriage; for example, the reintroduction of fault grounds for divorce, legal recognition of same-sex marriage, and use of federal funds for programs aimed at persuading unwed parents to marry all have advocates and opponents. Much of the dispute over marriage has arisen from the fact that in the course of the second half of the twentieth century family life underwent remarkable change: effective birth control and changing mores made sexual relations outside of marriage, and family planning within marriage, common; women’s labor force participation increased dramatically;...

  7. Afterword: Narrowing the Status of Marriage
    (pp. 217-236)
    Anita Bernstein

    Building on the reflections on marriage as a status that this volume has offered, this afterword adds two approaches. Following up on Lawrence Rosen question about the legimitacy of coercion (Rosen, this volume), the first approach I broach here is jurisprudential: a look at marriage as an example of law-based compulsion. Next I move to two existing defenses of this status, both of them less comprehensive than the failed utilitarian “case” that sought to promote marriage as a source of social well-being (see Solot and Miller, this volume; Bernstein introduction, this volume). These two arguments—the first a “belonging” hypothesis,...

  8. About the Contributors
    (pp. 237-240)
  9. Index
    (pp. 241-246)