After SSM, What's Next for Marriage: The NYT Debate


LetThePeopleVote.comWe've already mentioned Stanford Law Professor Ralph Richard Banks view that now that New York has legalized same-sex marriage, incestuous and polygamous marriage equality ought to be sought, but here (briefly) are the other views represented in a New York Times panel debate:

Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, writes about "An Imperiled Institution":

Instead, marriage today reflects several 20th-century shifts of extraordinary implications. First, the wide uptake of reproductive technology severed — in our minds, if not always in our lived realities — the generation of children from the meaning of marriage. The kids are now an option, which was unthinkable before the pill. And now making them need not even involve sex.

That is a colossal shift, and a widely shared assumption among Americans of all faiths, colors and orientations. These changes have both fueled, and been driven by, still other signal changes — the premium we place on unlimited personal autonomy, the declining need to marry and the ease of access to sex without strings. Without those developments, nothing interesting would have happened in Albany last month.

W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, writes about "Marriage Haves and Have-Nots":

The roots of this growing marriage divide are economic (the postindustrial economy favors the college-educated), cultural (less-educated Americans are abandoning a marriage mindset even as college-educated Americans take up this mindset) and legal (less-educated Americans seem particularly gun shy about marrying in a world where no-fault divorce is the law of the land). Alas, the same-sex marriage debate has crowded out any serious effort to remedy this marriage inequality.

Consequently, the United States is a nation where the privileged and powerful reap the financial, emotional and social benefits of stable marriages, whereas poor and ordinary American adults and especially their children are burdened by family lives characterized by growing instability, complexity and conflict (think “baby mama drama”). What looks to be an increasingly “separate and unequal” future for marriage in America cannot be good for the future of the nation.

Judith Stacey, a professor of sociology at New York University, writes about "Unequal Opportunity":

... same-sex marriage enthusiasts are wrong to celebrate the democratizing effects of their victory in New York. To be sure, it removes an indefensible form of discrimination against lesbians and gay men. But the upshot of celebrating marriage is to exacerbate discrimination against the unmarried and their children — a rising proportion of our population, particularly among its poorer and darker members. Same-sex marriage, like its heterosexual model, is disproportionately accessible to members of the white middle class.

As the United States gradually makes the membership rules to marriage gender-inclusive, it risks deepening our sharp class and race disparities in marriage and family life. If we wish to avoid this fate, we should not be celebrating the benefits of marriage. Instead we need to develop family policies that give greater recognition and resources to the growing array of families formed, as Nancy Polikoff titled her book, “Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage.”

John Corvino, an associate professor at Wayne State University, writes about "No Slippery Slope":

...for champions of equality, it’s a time to celebrate, but hardly a time to move on. Meanwhile, opponents continue to predict a slippery slope to polygamy, polyamory and other “untested, experimental” family forms.

The grain of truth in their prediction is this: recent progress reminds us that marriage is an evolving institution and that not everyone fits in the neat boxes that existing tradition offers.

Elizabeth F. Emens, finally, a professor at Columbia Law School, writes about "A Simple Hyphen Will Do":

The summer of 2011 is a watershed moment for marriage equality in New York. To prepare for same-sex marriage, bureaucrats across the state are busily revising marriage license application forms to make the forms sex-neutral. Say goodbye to separate lines labeled “bride” and “groom.”

In the interest of gender equality, and in compliance with the law, the new forms should include prominent statements of the marital naming options.

Why? Because names matter. And right now, women who marry men have limited options when it comes to names. Sure, women can choose their names, which is better than having to take their husbands’ names, as used to be required in some states. But kids almost always have their father’s name. So a woman can either share a name with her past life and family, or share a name with her children. In other words, men get to have continuity with both past and future; women have to choose. (And of course this practice of patrilineal descent of names doesn’t provide any guidance for same-sex couples.)