Marriage Proposals: Questioning a Legal Status

Marriage Proposals: Questioning a Legal Status

Marriage Proposals: Questioning a Legal Status

Marriage Proposals: Questioning a Legal Status


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 "fiancée 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.


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 book What 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 written to take from federal courts their power to review a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, the first federal statute that had ever prescribed a definition of marriage. a month later, in August, the California Supreme Court issued its first judicial decision nullifying thousands of putative marriages—3,995, to be precise—that had been solemnized during February and March 2004 after the San Francisco city government had issued licenses to couples. in the late summer of 2004, the Republican National Convention proclaimed support for a measure called the Federal Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. a nonprofit group called American Center for Law and Justice announced in August 2004 that it had gathered more than half a million signatures on a petition in support of this marriage amendment, introduced in Congress about a year earlier. On November 2, 2004, voters in eleven states were asked to consider amendments to their constitutions concerning the definition of marriage: all eleven proposed amendments won majority approval, as had a similar amendment put on the ballot in Missouri three months earlier, in August 2004.

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