Marriage is an institution said to be in flux. Its core meaning is hotly contested. Is marriage mainly about the right of individuals to form intimate pairs and enjoy the status recognition provided by the state's apparatus for authorizing and recognizing marital bonds? Or is about constructing community through an institution defined by an essential role in family formation of reproductive pairs? As arguments rage in the United States over what marriage is, the amounts spent on weddings is staggeringly high. At the same, the decline of marriage is a common theme of popular treatments and statistical reports. A cacophony of voices compete to settle the matter: marriage is obsolete, marriage is dangerous and oppressive, marriage is valuable and should be a matter of equal rights, the state should get out of the marriage business, and marriage is an institution with a core meaning tied to reproduction. This seminar will examine the history of marriage as a cultural phenomenon with special attention to the role of the state, individual autonomy, and religious authority as factors in forming marriages. There will be special attention to marriage procedure, with critical examination of the tie of marriage control to place: is geography really marital destiny? Has it ever been, and should it be? What is the role of geographically defined community in marriage? Do states have policy interests in denying recognition to same-sex marriages as more states authorize them? This course will take a critical look at marriage dogma, unexamined assumptions about states and marriage, and, finally, the role of federal courts under U.S. federalism in mediating the lacunae of marriage law and culture.
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