Page 7


3 minutes on . . . Marriage Nancy Polikoff

Professor, family law, sexuality and the law, and children of LGBT parents, Washington College of Law

The idea that marriage is about

unhappy that

love is relatively modern. For

creditors of

much of history, it was about forging an

economic unit. Going

to overstate the social and legal

profligate husbands

stigma. This also changed

Federal law governs taxes, Social Security, federal benefits and

in the 1970s when the Supreme

obligations, and immigration. This

Court said it was unconstitutional

June, the Supreme Court ruled that this latter part of DOMA is

could make off with

to discriminate

that property. In the 1970s, the

against children based


back to English

U.S. Supreme Court began ruling

on their parents’

If a state allows same-sex couple

common law, marriage was a

all the remaining gender-based

marital status.

to marry, the federal government

completely gendered institution

marriage laws as unconstitutional

in which women lost their

sex discrimination.

legal identity. There

For most of our history, marriage

ended if one

So you have three revolutionary changes:

the stigma of being unmarried and having a child lessened; it

must recognize those marriages.

12 states and D.C. allow same-sex

Right now,

was a saying, “the husband and

could only be

wife are one, and the one is the

party committed “fault.” The


husband.” For example,

primary marital faults were

married; and the mandated gender

a wife could not

adultery, extreme physical

roles of centuries were gone.

own property or sign

cruelty, and desertion. Only the

legal documents.

“innocent” spouse could request

Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

a divorce.

was passed in 1996 because

unions or domestic partnerships.

These rules

Congress feared that Hawaii

Because of the change in the

brought it to the

changed in the

would legalize same-sex

institution of marriage over time

colonies, and it was

1970s with the

marriage and that

and the revolutionary changes

part of American

beginning of

couples would flock

in the 1970s, it makes sense to

This state of being was called

“coverture.” Settlers

optional to stay



Another seven states have civil

to Hawaii then go

seriously question

of the biggest transformations

back home, forcing everyone

why marriage should ever be

nineteenth century. Things

ever in marriage. No one can be



started to change as a result of

forced to stay married any more.

marriages. DOMA also says that

the law between


There also used to be a “bright

for the federal government’s

relationships that

women’s movement and because

line” distinguishing between

purposes, marriage can only be

count and those

fathers whose daughters had

children born to married versus

between a man

property or might inherit were

unmarried women. It’s impossible

and a woman.

law until the

no-fault divorce, one

middle of the

first wave of the

recognize those

dividing line in

that don’t.

Let’s talk #americanmag  5

American magazine, August 2013  

The flagship publication of American University. This magazine offers a lively look at what AU was and is, and where it's going. It's a foru...

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