Untying the Knot: Marriage, the State, and the Case for Their Divorce

Untying the Knot: Marriage, the State, and the Case for Their Divorce

Untying the Knot: Marriage, the State, and the Case for Their Divorce

Untying the Knot: Marriage, the State, and the Case for Their Divorce

Synopsis

Marriage is at the center of one of today's fiercest political debates. Activists argue about how to define it, judges and legislators decide who should benefit from it, and scholars consider how the state should protect those who are denied it. Few, however, ask whether the state should have anything to do with marriage in the first place. In Untying the Knot, Tamara Metz addresses this crucial question, making a powerful argument that marriage, like religion, should be separated from the state. Rather than defining or conferring marriage, or relying on it to achieve legitimate public welfare goals, the state should create a narrow legal status that supports all intimate caregiving unions. Marriage itself should be bestowed by those best suited to give it the necessary ethical authority--religious groups and other kinds of communities. Divorcing the state from marriage is dictated by nothing less than basic commitments to freedom and equality.


Tracing confusions about marriage to tensions at the heart of liberalism, Untying the Knot clarifies today's debates about marriage by identifying and explaining assumptions hidden in widely held positions and common practices. It shows that, as long as marriage and the state are linked, marriage will be a threat to liberalism and the state will be a threat to marriage. An important and timely rethinking of the relationship between marriage and the state, Untying the Knot will interest political theorists, legal scholars, policymakers, sociologists, and anyone else who cares about the fate of marriage or liberalism.

Excerpt

On June 17, 2008, San Francisco's straight and iconoclastic mayor Gavin Newsom presided over the wedding of Del Martin, 87, and Phyllis Lyon, 84. Partners for more than half a century, Martin and Lyon were the first same-sex couple to be married under the California Supreme Court's landmark ruling In re Marriage Cases. In addition to the joy that normally accompanies a wedding, Martin and Lyon's ceremony was marked by the euphoria of injustice righted. Mayor Newsom declared, “Today, marriage as an institution has been strengthened.”

On January 20, 2009, in Washington, DC, on the steps of the United States Capitol building, Pastor Rick Warren opened the historic inauguration of the forty-fourth president, Barack Obama, with the words, “Almighty God, our father.” At that moment, amid the thick whirl of hope and virtue, on the side streets in the capital and cities across America, some of Obama's most loyal supporters stood and waved flags of protest. Warren's comments on same-sex marriage stirred the only noticeable disturbance in Obama's transition into the White House. One month earlier, War-

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