Perhaps it’s time to revert to a much older marital tradition. Let churches decide which marriages they deem “licit.” But let couples — gay or straight — decide if they want the legal protections and obligations of a committed relationship.
I am with her 100%. When I suggested as much in my property class during my first year of law school, during a discussion of marital assets, people were shocked and appalled by the idea that marriage should be a religious institution and the state should be in the business only of civil unions for all couples, gay or straight. I would like to think that Coontz’s piece is a sign that notions are changing. But then again, that law school discussion was only two years ago.
I also have to say that as much as I support Coontz’s marriage proposal (pun intended), there is something about her historical framing of it that makes me a little uncomfortable. Yes, one strong thing going for the so-called privatization of marriage is the practice’s historical roots. That said, I think we need to be careful not to idealize the marriage of the past, in which women were property and a marriage was a business arrangement. Coontz is completely right to suggest that the state is not the appropriate purveyor of “marriage”; the state should recognize civil not religious unions. But I think we can advocate for this shift without recalling the marriage misogyny of days gone by. It continues strongly enough today as it is.