Despite dramatic social change, marriage remains a critical social institution that promotes individual, family and community well being. The contributors to this book believe that marriage deserves our best efforts to revitalize it instead of a conscious agenda of benign neglect. Here, assembled in one place, is a clear pro-marriage research and policy agenda aimed at revitalizing this insitution based on principles of the best interests of children, husbands and wives, and society at large. Contributors from both the social sciences and legal studies illuminate critical issues from a variety of important perspectives, providing a comprehensive and respectful treatment of a timely and often divisive subject.
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.