New York, June 18, 2013—As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to make decisions in two landmark cases challenging legal restrictions on marriage between same-sex couples, debates over the institution of marriage and the status of non-marital relationships are escalating across the nation. Three Columbia Law School professors add their voices to the conversation in Marriage at the Crossroads: Law, Policy, and the Brave New World of Twenty-First-Century Families, an anthology of fifteen essays on contemporary issues in marriage law authored by leading social scientists and legal scholars.
Co-edited by Elizabeth S. Scott, the Harold R. Medina Professor of Law and an expert in child and family law, the book considers rapidly shifting public attitudes toward marriage and other family relationships, the place of marriage reform in gay and lesbian communities’ efforts for social equality, and controversies over the status of different-sex marriage. It also confronts the growing “marriage gap” that has emerged as marriage has held steady among those with higher income and education levels while declining dramatically among poor and working class couples. The aim of Scott and her co-editor, Brooklyn Law School Professor Marsha Garrison, is not to endorse one side or another in these complex legal issues but to “provide tools to analyze and, hopefully, assist in resolving these policy questions about marriage at a critical juncture.”
“A generation from now,” they write in their introduction to the book, “marriage and childbearing may seem quite different than they do today.”
Katherine M. Franke, Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, analyzes how perceptions of marriage in the U.S. have changed across generations in her essay, “The Curious Relationship of Marriage and Freedom.” Acknowledging widespread resistance to “the analogy between the civil rights movement today for lesbian and gay people and that of African Americans,” she nevertheless considers the contemporary marriage movement in light of newly emancipated slaves’ struggles for equal rights in the mid-nineteenth century. For a long time in both communities, she concludes, “exclusion from civil marriage has been understood as a significant form of social disadvantage, both materially and symbolically.”
Suzanne B. Goldberg, the Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law who is also co-director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, considers why many gay and lesbian activists have made the right to marry a political priority in her essay, “Why Marriage?” Responding to widespread speculation that allowing gay couples to marry will transform the entire institution of marriage, Goldberg explains that the most “major arguments for marriage… are really much more about bringing gay and lesbian couples into the existing institution of marriage than about changing marriage in any way.”
On behalf of the Columbia Law School Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic, Goldberg filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the pending U.S. v. Windsor case. Goldberg also filed an amicus brief in support of the gay plaintiffs in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case that overturned Proposition 8 in California.
Scott and Garrison conclude Marriage at the Crossroads with their essay “Legal Regulation of Twenty-First-Century Families,” which places current changes in marriage law within the broader context of family law and interprets some of the policy implications of the empirical evidence on marriage. Because social science research evidence shows that marriage provides a relatively stable setting for raising children, Scott and Garrison argue the law should continue to support marriage. But, rather than pushing marriage as the ultimate goal for two partners, including unmarried parents, they write that policy should respect “the freedom of adults to make choices about their intimate relationships.” The editors don’t claim to offer the final word on marriage reform. Rather, they hope their book and the current debates will result in greater family stability, specifically “policy reforms directed toward supporting the growing number of fragile families—and all families.”