Why Marriage Matters offers a compelling and clear discussion of a question at the forefront of our national consciousness. It is the work of a brilliant civil rights litigator who has dedicated his life to the protection of individuals' rights and our Constitution's commitment to equal justice under the law. Above all, it is a thoughtful, straightforward book that brings into sharp focus the human significance of the right to marry in America -- not just for some couples, but for all.
Whatever your personal beliefs, we all can agree that marriage equality provokes both passion and tension, and looms large in our nation's politics. Marriage means many things to many people -- emotionally, spiritually, intellectually -- but in these pages, Evan Wolfson demonstrates a truth that is undeniable: Marriage is the legal gateway to a vast array of tangible and intangible protections, responsibilities, and benefits, most of which cannot be replicated in any other way.
Wolfson is a formidable legal thinker who has participated in landmark cases to end race discrimination in jury trials, to secure the rights of battered married women, and to challenge the abuse of power at the highest level in government. Now, with extraordinary clarity, fascinating stories, and legal and historical examples, he addresses the questions we as Americans are asking ourselves as we consider how marriage equality will affect our lives. Why is the word marriage so important? What are the stakes for America in this civil rights movement? How can people of different faiths reconcile their beliefs with the idea of marriage for same-sex couples? How will allowing gay couples to marry affect children? Here you will find thorough, honest answers -- some that may surprise you, some that will persuade you, many that will move you. Wolfson recalls the history of past battles over marriage and movements for equality, and articulates the everyday acts of discrimination that frame this current movement -- acts of discrimination that, if faced by non-gay Americans, would provoke a resounding cry of injustice.
Marriage matters because it is a foundation upon which most Americans build dreams. It is the cornerstone of commitment one individual makes to another -- a commitment we are taught is the highest expression of love, dedication, and responsibility. In this, the most powerful, authoritative, and fairly articulated book on the subject, Wolfson demonstrates why the right to marry is important -- indeed necessary -- for all couples and for America's promise of equality.
A nationally renowned attorney and director of Freedom to Marry, Wolfson hails the movement for marriage equality as "one of the first important civil rights campaigns of the 21st century" and grounds support for it within the logic of the long-established protest traditions in U.S. history: abolition, the women's suffrage movement and the racial equality movements of the 1950s and '60s. Unlike those who support gay marriage as a way to regulate what they see as the self-destructive sexual practices of homosexuals (David Brooks, Jonathan Rauch, Andrew Sullivan), Wolfson sidelines the issue of morality and discusses the right to marry as part of each citizen's inalienable claim to what the Declaration of Independence calls the "pursuit of happiness." Framing his argument strictly in terms of civil rights and grounding it in conventional definitions of the public significance of marriage, Wolfson is refreshing, smart, thorough and easy to follow. Most provocatively, Wolfson excises "gay marriage" from the debate entirely, writing that the term "impl[ies] that same-sex couples are asking for rights and privileges that married couples do not have, or for rights that are something lesser or different from what non-gay couples have. In fact, we don't want 'gay marriage,' we want marriage." For now, it is available in Boston.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Simon & Schuster
May 23, 2005
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Excerpt from Why Marriage Matters by Evan Wolfson
Chapter One: What Is Marriage?
Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family.
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (2003)
How the world can change,
It can change like that,
Due to one little word:
John Kander and Fred Ebb,
"Married," Cabaret (1966)
Depending on which linguistic expert you ask, there are anywhere from two thousand to seven thousand different languages spoken in the world today. That's a huge number to put your mind around -- even for someone who lives in Manhattan, where seemingly hundreds of those languages can be heard on the subway on any given day. Still, I'm willing to bet that each of these languages has something in common with the others: a word that means marriage.
No matter what language people speak -- from Arabic to Yiddish, from Chinook to Chinese -- marriage is what we use to describe a specific relationship of love and dedication to another person. It is how we explain the families that are united because of that love. And it universally signifies a level of self-sacrifice and responsibility and a stage of life unlike any other.
Now of course, different cultures and times have had many different conceptions of marriage, different rules and different ways of regarding those who are married -- not to mention different treatment for married men and married women. We will explore some of those differences in this book: differences in who can marry whom and when, in how to end a failed marriage (or if you even may), in how many people you can marry, in the involvement or noninvolvement of the state and religion, and in the consequences that come with being married. But with all this variety and all the changes that have occurred in marriage over time and in different places, including our country and within our lifetime, it is clear that marriage has been a defining institution in virtually every society throughout history. Given its variety and omnipresence, it is not surprising that when people talk about marriage, they often mean different things.
Consider all the different dimensions of marriage in the United States alone. First, marriage is a personal commitment and an important choice that belongs to couples in love. In fact, many people consider their choice of partner the most significant choice they will ever make. It is a relationship between people who are, hopefully, in love and an undertaking that most couples hope will endure.
Marriage is also a social statement, preeminently describing and defining a person's relationships and place in society. Marital status, along with what we do for a living, is often one of the first pieces of information we give to others about ourselves. It's so important, in fact, that most married people wear a symbol of their marriage on their hand.
Marriage is also a relationship between a couple and the government. Couples need the government's participation to get into and out of a marriage. Because it is a legal or "civil" institution, marriage is the legal gateway to a vast array of protections, responsibilities, and benefits -- most of which cannot be replicated in any other way, no matter how much forethought you show or how much you are able to spend on attorneys' fees and assembling proxies and papers.
The tangible legal and economic protections and responsibilities that come with marriage include access to health care and medical decision making for your partner and your children; parenting and immigration rights; inheritance, taxation, Social Security, and other government benefits; rules for ending a relationship while protecting both parties; and the simple ability to pool resources to buy or transfer property without adverse tax treatment. In 1996, the federal government cataloged more than 1,049 ways in which married people are accorded special status under federal law; in a 2004 report, the General Accounting Office bumped up those federal effects of marriage to at least 1,138. Add in the state-level protections and the intangible as well as tangible privileges marriage brings in private life, and it's clear that the legal institution of marriage is one of the major safety nets in life, both in times of crisis and in day-to-day living.
Marriage uniquely permits couples to travel and deal with others in business or across borders without playing a game of "now you're legally next of kin; now you're legally not." It is a known commodity; no matter how people in fact conduct their marriages, there is a clarity, security, and automatic level of respect and legal status when someone gets to say, "That's my husband" or "I love my wife."