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Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families under the Law

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The debate over marriage equality for same-sex couples rages across the country. Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage boldly moves the discussion forward by focusing on the larger, more fundamental issue of marriage and the law. The root problem, asserts law professor and LGBT rights activist Nancy Polikoff, is that marriage is a bright dividing line between those relationsh The debate over marriage equality for same-sex couples rages across the country. Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage boldly moves the discussion forward by focusing on the larger, more fundamental issue of marriage and the law. The root problem, asserts law professor and LGBT rights activist Nancy Polikoff, is that marriage is a bright dividing line between those relationships that legally matter and those that don't. A woman married to a man for nine months is entitled to Social Security survivor's benefits when he dies; a woman living for nineteen years with a man or woman to whom she is not married receives nothing. Polikoff reframes the debate by arguing that all family relationships and households need the economic stability and emotional peace of mind that now extend only to married couples. Unmarried couples of any sexual orientation, single-parent households, extended family units, and myriad other familial configurations need recognition and protection to meet the concerns they all share: building and sustaining economic and emotional interdependence, and nurturing the next generation. Couples should have the choice to marry based on the spiritual, cultural, or religious meaning of marriage in their lives, asserts Polikoff. While marriage equality for same-sex couples is a civil rights victory, she contends that no one should have to marry in order to reap specific and unique legal results. A persuasive argument that married couples should not receive special rights denied to other families, Polikoff shows how the law can value all families, and why it must.


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The debate over marriage equality for same-sex couples rages across the country. Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage boldly moves the discussion forward by focusing on the larger, more fundamental issue of marriage and the law. The root problem, asserts law professor and LGBT rights activist Nancy Polikoff, is that marriage is a bright dividing line between those relationsh The debate over marriage equality for same-sex couples rages across the country. Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage boldly moves the discussion forward by focusing on the larger, more fundamental issue of marriage and the law. The root problem, asserts law professor and LGBT rights activist Nancy Polikoff, is that marriage is a bright dividing line between those relationships that legally matter and those that don't. A woman married to a man for nine months is entitled to Social Security survivor's benefits when he dies; a woman living for nineteen years with a man or woman to whom she is not married receives nothing. Polikoff reframes the debate by arguing that all family relationships and households need the economic stability and emotional peace of mind that now extend only to married couples. Unmarried couples of any sexual orientation, single-parent households, extended family units, and myriad other familial configurations need recognition and protection to meet the concerns they all share: building and sustaining economic and emotional interdependence, and nurturing the next generation. Couples should have the choice to marry based on the spiritual, cultural, or religious meaning of marriage in their lives, asserts Polikoff. While marriage equality for same-sex couples is a civil rights victory, she contends that no one should have to marry in order to reap specific and unique legal results. A persuasive argument that married couples should not receive special rights denied to other families, Polikoff shows how the law can value all families, and why it must.

30 review for Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families under the Law

  1. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    What an eye-opening book! It takes you through all of the history and cases that illustrate the problem with giving marriage "special rights." The author instead calls for a "valuing all families" approach that looks at the INTENT of laws to decide who should benefit from them. And I completely agree with the statement that just because you CAN marry doesn't mean you should HAVE to get married in order to have the same benefits as other people. And people should have the right to stay unmarried What an eye-opening book! It takes you through all of the history and cases that illustrate the problem with giving marriage "special rights." The author instead calls for a "valuing all families" approach that looks at the INTENT of laws to decide who should benefit from them. And I completely agree with the statement that just because you CAN marry doesn't mean you should HAVE to get married in order to have the same benefits as other people. And people should have the right to stay unmarried and "uncoupled" but still be able to choose who gets to visit them in a hospital, who gets to inherit their property, and who gets their benefits when they die. "Family" has only recently (since the 1950's) meant one married man and woman and their children. We used to be able to include parents, grandparents, and even close family friends who are not blood relations as our "family." And you shouldn't be stuck with your blood relations if you want nothing to do with them. The notion that the "nuclear" family is better than any kind of other family unit is a complete lie perpetuated by those who want to incite panic in the religious community. POVERTY is the cause of social ills, not unmarried parents.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    I highly recommend this book to college students, law students, attorneys, religious leaders, and policy makers - gay or straight - anyone who is searching for a better way to conceptualize family values in this country. The author provides an in-depth history of the LGBT rights movement juxtaposed against the rise of the Christian Right and delivers a very moving argument for why we should start to untangle sex-based relationships from the civil institution of marriage and move to a model based I highly recommend this book to college students, law students, attorneys, religious leaders, and policy makers - gay or straight - anyone who is searching for a better way to conceptualize family values in this country. The author provides an in-depth history of the LGBT rights movement juxtaposed against the rise of the Christian Right and delivers a very moving argument for why we should start to untangle sex-based relationships from the civil institution of marriage and move to a model based on dependency - the original purpose of marriage. In today's modern world, there are many different kinds of families - gay couples raising adopted children; single mothers living with their siblings; adult children helping their elderly parents; etc. etc. These families are built on dependency - each individual supports or depends on another and the government should intervene in a way that rewards such relationships, e.g. by providing health insurance and other benefits that are often provided only for spouses or unrelated domestic partners. This book is a fascinating read and would make an excellent addition to the collection of any scholar of history, politics, feminism, or religion.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mairi

    In general, a well-thought-out, thorough book. It begins a nice discussion of current family/relationship law (particularly in the United States), and finishes with proposed methods to fix such laws by valuing all families, instead of the currently dominant marriage/marriage-like approach. However, the book could have been more radical in the types of families addressed. The book rarely discusses families with more than two adults (even the non-conjugal families it mentions are often pairs + chi In general, a well-thought-out, thorough book. It begins a nice discussion of current family/relationship law (particularly in the United States), and finishes with proposed methods to fix such laws by valuing all families, instead of the currently dominant marriage/marriage-like approach. However, the book could have been more radical in the types of families addressed. The book rarely discusses families with more than two adults (even the non-conjugal families it mentions are often pairs + children. or single individuals caring for dependents). While such singles/pairs are undoubtedly the vast majority, the book could have done a much better job addressing other families, or even simply highlighting how they're affected by existing/proposed laws. I was left feeling slightly let down that the book didn't go further.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Loved, loved, loved this book. Like other reviewers, I feel like someone has finally, academically clarified what has fundamentally bothered me about the LGBT movement's focus on Marriage as the solution to all of our problems. The problem is not simply that gays are denied marriage. The problem is that the law provides special rights to married couples at the expense of all the diverse family forms sustaining each other in today's society. Loved, loved, loved this book. Like other reviewers, I feel like someone has finally, academically clarified what has fundamentally bothered me about the LGBT movement's focus on Marriage as the solution to all of our problems. The problem is not simply that gays are denied marriage. The problem is that the law provides special rights to married couples at the expense of all the diverse family forms sustaining each other in today's society.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Taylor

    This book was extremely informative about marriage equality and the laws surrounding it. Though this was written before the 2015 law allowing same-sex couples to marry, it provided excellent information regarding the importance of why simply passing the same-sex marriage law is not the solution to everything. There were many things I was not aware of before reading this book, especially when it came to how children are treated depending on the status of their parent(s). I thoroughly enjoyed lear This book was extremely informative about marriage equality and the laws surrounding it. Though this was written before the 2015 law allowing same-sex couples to marry, it provided excellent information regarding the importance of why simply passing the same-sex marriage law is not the solution to everything. There were many things I was not aware of before reading this book, especially when it came to how children are treated depending on the status of their parent(s). I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the different aspects of the law in this light. A valuing-all-families approach seems like a much better answer than simply allowing same-sex partners to marry. Though it has been an amazing step for the LGBTQ community, I can understand how the law is not a “cure-all” for the entire community, including different-sex unmarried couples. Polikoff has provided an excellent point of view that focuses away from marriage and points its attention to families as a whole, whether they are blood-related or not.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Highlyeccentric

    This was very, very good. American-centric (and boy did it show - her section on Australian law showed a marked lack of understanding as to how much less significant state law is here), but still good. Polikoff's key arguments were as follows: 1. That equal marriage rights do not and will not guarantee protection for a wide range of family structures, and that many LGBTetc folk will continue to be excluded if, for instance, their peers can marry but an LGBT person caring for a niece or nephew will This was very, very good. American-centric (and boy did it show - her section on Australian law showed a marked lack of understanding as to how much less significant state law is here), but still good. Polikoff's key arguments were as follows: 1. That equal marriage rights do not and will not guarantee protection for a wide range of family structures, and that many LGBTetc folk will continue to be excluded if, for instance, their peers can marry but an LGBT person caring for a niece or nephew will still struggle to access the same rights in terms of access, insurance, and so on that married parents can access. Polikoff offered many examples of gay, straight, and not-sexual-at-all relationships that would not be protected by marriage equality. (For instance, a woman in New York lost her housing subsidy when she applied to have her elderly father move in, because this constituted 'overcrowding'. A spouse would have been fine.) 2. That the feminist and LGBTetc movements of the 60s and 70s worked toward recognition and protection for *all family structures*, often by decreasing the importance of marriage when it came to access to services and support. That the current focus on marriage is regressive by comparison. 3. That the rhetoric of the marriage equality movement has too easily conceded ground to the conservative 'marriage movement' backlash, in granting marriage special status and flowery rhetoric. Marriage equality activists for instance often push the same argument as conservatives, vis, that marriage is good for children. The long-term outcomes of surrendering this ground are unlikely to be good. 4. That other options exist in current US law and/or overseas, which could be strengthened and more broadly applied. For instance, there's a federal act which provides family and carer's leave (can't remember it's name) to federal employees, and it has a non-restrictive definition of family. An employee can take carer's leave for any child they share in the primary care of, for instance, regardless of whether they are or are married to that child's natural parent. I liked this book. It articulated clearly my growing discomfort with the rhetoric of marriage & children as distilled into soundbites on the Australian Marriage Equality page. Just recently, for instance, a pair of ladies, one of whom is a US citizen and one Australian, were pictured with a caption explaining that it's so easy to enter the US: they can say 'this is my wife' and everyone understands! Then they come home and are no longer married. WELL. Yes. Except under US law they *have* to be married to migrate; you can quite easily get around in Australia as same-sex defacto partners. If airport staff don't understand 'this is my partner' then they need a re-education, but NOT in favour of marriage, bloody hell, plenty of people come and go in airports with their de-facto spouses. And I really am getting fed up with the cute 'but why can't my mummies marry?' pictures. Why can't your mummies start by explaining that the idea that married parents are the best family is, while widely held, wrong and wrong-headed and worth challenging? HRMPH. Also, all this concerns me in a sharply personal way, because of how my family is no longer mum & dad and two directly descended kids. The family structure surrounding my little sister is a lot more complicated than that, and, well, we *are* one of those families who, without spending a lot of time and money on wills and solicitors and so on, would end up with an inappropriate distribution of resources and legalities in the event of my parents' sudden death. Matters like care of children are not simple in my little sister's cluster of the family, either. Plus, I watched little sister try to figure out her family structure as a tot, and the overwhelming *normativity* of mum&dad&twopointfivekids really did not help her understand and embrace her own family. And the inclusion of mum&mum&twopointfivekids in the standard would not reeeeally help with that. BAH.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Puck

    This book is very well-written and engaging and makes a strong argument for dismantling marriage as a dividing line between relationships that are supported by the government and those that are marginalized. There are many kinds of families and they all need to be honored.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

    I think my multiple years of working at law firms is starting to rub off on me, because I'm much more interested in the nitty, gritty of the law now (rather than just big picture "issues"). This book is by an American University law professor (DC represent!) and it's much more about how the law, particularly family law, works than other books that touch on the issues of gay marriage. It was very eye-opening to me - because it went beyond the basic argument that gay people should be able to get ma I think my multiple years of working at law firms is starting to rub off on me, because I'm much more interested in the nitty, gritty of the law now (rather than just big picture "issues"). This book is by an American University law professor (DC represent!) and it's much more about how the law, particularly family law, works than other books that touch on the issues of gay marriage. It was very eye-opening to me - because it went beyond the basic argument that gay people should be able to get married (a point on which both the author and I agree), to highlight the ways that favoring marriage in general hurts all kinds of families - unmarried straight couples, households made up of siblings, step-families where the children have not been adopted by their respective step-parents, basically every family that isn't a heterosexual married couple. Polikoff makes the argument that instead of (just) trying to get folks in same-sex relationships to have what straight married folks have, everyone concerned with treating all families fairly (including those big gay rights organizations) should take a good look at family law and try to reform it so that EVERY one is treated fairly. She is pretty frustrated with those organizations that treat marriage as the ONLY solution to issues of inheritance, custody, insurance benefits, etc. And I think rightly so. I would definitely recommend this book. To pretty much anyone. We don't really think about family law until it affects us, but it will come into play in all of our lives sooner or later.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    As other reviewers have mentioned, this invokes a paradigm shift on marriage rights and marriage as an institution. Well-written, succinct, easy-to-understand for those of us who are not experts on law. Overall, it is certainly worth reading. However, some problems to keep in mind: - Constant language like "gay and lesbian rights" and "gay and lesbian access to marriage" erases the fact that bisexual people (46% of the LGBT population) experience same-sex partnerships too, and they do not become g As other reviewers have mentioned, this invokes a paradigm shift on marriage rights and marriage as an institution. Well-written, succinct, easy-to-understand for those of us who are not experts on law. Overall, it is certainly worth reading. However, some problems to keep in mind: - Constant language like "gay and lesbian rights" and "gay and lesbian access to marriage" erases the fact that bisexual people (46% of the LGBT population) experience same-sex partnerships too, and they do not become gay upon entering these relationships - There are a couple instances of outdated, harmful language regarding trans people (e.g., the problematic "sex change" instead of "transition" or "gender confirmation") and erasure of trans folks' vital role in initiating the entire "gay rights movement," as Polikoff calls it - There is a lack of intersectionality where it would have been very enlightening (women's rights =/= only middle-class white women's rights) I personally was completely sold on the book's argument after the introduction (5 stars), and everything after that was kind of unstimulating (2 stars).

  10. 5 out of 5

    Yasmin

    "Over the last few years, there has been wider resistance to gay marriage in the queer community. Many among us have argued that marriage shouldn’t be the guarantor of something as basic as health care, and that queer commitment is no more special than the worlds that the uncoupled have created for themselves. They can now resort to Nancy Polikoff’s detailed book for supporting counterarguments against the gay marriage crowd, as well as ways in which to craft a system that guarantees basics like "Over the last few years, there has been wider resistance to gay marriage in the queer community. Many among us have argued that marriage shouldn’t be the guarantor of something as basic as health care, and that queer commitment is no more special than the worlds that the uncoupled have created for themselves. They can now resort to Nancy Polikoff’s detailed book for supporting counterarguments against the gay marriage crowd, as well as ways in which to craft a system that guarantees basics like health care to everybody, not just the coupled and married." My full review is at: http://www.yasminnair.net/content/nan...

  11. 5 out of 5

    Evy

    I read this book for a report in a Social Problems class I took this past quarter. While it started out as just another book for school, I became fascinated by the narrative. The author introduces the history of the gay rights movement in a manner that makes an already interesting time fascinating while juxtaposing it against the rise of the conservative Christian rights rise. The topics discussed don't simply affect members of the LGBT community, but everyone. This book brings to light how the I read this book for a report in a Social Problems class I took this past quarter. While it started out as just another book for school, I became fascinated by the narrative. The author introduces the history of the gay rights movement in a manner that makes an already interesting time fascinating while juxtaposing it against the rise of the conservative Christian rights rise. The topics discussed don't simply affect members of the LGBT community, but everyone. This book brings to light how the current round of bills fighting against gay marriage also fight against the rights of unmarried straight partnerships of all kinds (step parents and their step children; straight couples who have yet to marry; siblings who live together into old age; etc).

  12. 4 out of 5

    Austin

    Half the ideas were great and should be implemented, half were just not feasible and/or wouldn't be helpful. Interesting read if you want a critique of the marriage equality movement, but the thesis wasn't very compelling to me. (I know this is all very vague, but I just don't feel like digging back through it to give any actual examples. You must exercise blind faith in this review--or none at all. Sorry.) Half the ideas were great and should be implemented, half were just not feasible and/or wouldn't be helpful. Interesting read if you want a critique of the marriage equality movement, but the thesis wasn't very compelling to me. (I know this is all very vague, but I just don't feel like digging back through it to give any actual examples. You must exercise blind faith in this review--or none at all. Sorry.)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Scoobs-buddy

    WOW!!!!! This is an important book-- one that really matters! It's brilliant- very well written & should be read by EVERYONE!!!! I'm probably going to be buying several copies of this book- one to keep and others to give away. Seriously- this is one of the most important books I've read in a long time. A definite must read WOW!!!!! This is an important book-- one that really matters! It's brilliant- very well written & should be read by EVERYONE!!!! I'm probably going to be buying several copies of this book- one to keep and others to give away. Seriously- this is one of the most important books I've read in a long time. A definite must read

  14. 5 out of 5

    Grey

    This was a good book, and I'd recommend it to anyone involved in LGBT rights in the United States. A few short anecdotes in early chapters seems strangely ignorant of trans issues. (They tended to misgender the person and say they had a "sex change".) Which was weird, because trans issues around marriage law were discussed explicitly in later chapters. This was a good book, and I'd recommend it to anyone involved in LGBT rights in the United States. A few short anecdotes in early chapters seems strangely ignorant of trans issues. (They tended to misgender the person and say they had a "sex change".) Which was weird, because trans issues around marriage law were discussed explicitly in later chapters.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    This book is making a very good point about how families and marriage are perceived by our society and by the law. Gaining the right to marry for gays and lesbians will not solve the problems that others face - i.e. extended family units, cohabitating couples, etc. Those who choose to "marry" shouldn't be given more rights than the rest of us. This book is making a very good point about how families and marriage are perceived by our society and by the law. Gaining the right to marry for gays and lesbians will not solve the problems that others face - i.e. extended family units, cohabitating couples, etc. Those who choose to "marry" shouldn't be given more rights than the rest of us.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    A complete paradigm shift for what family, marriage, sexuality, gender, and personal rights and dignity MEAN. No person should be allowed to marry or vote for OR against Prop 8 without reading this book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    A'Llyn Ettien

    Interesting argument that marriage is not actually a good dividing line for how we measure and value families.

  18. 4 out of 5

    AJ

    An interesting book, but extremely out of date.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Heron

    Excellent case for anti-marriage perspective on civil rights.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Magdalen

  21. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea

  22. 5 out of 5

    Megan

  23. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

  24. 4 out of 5

    Beth Meyers

  25. 5 out of 5

    Shawn Fremstad

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kenyon

  27. 4 out of 5

    Libertine

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sharain

  29. 5 out of 5

    Justin

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jodi

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