About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, May 17, 2010

#39 - Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage

Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families under the Law, by Nancy D. Polikoff (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008) was excellent -- illuminating, clearly-written, and provocative.

Summary: "Polikoff (law, American U. Washington College of Law) takes issue with the concept of marriage and argues that it makes unmarried couples of any sexual orientation, single-parent households, extended family units, and others unable to reap the benefits of the law. She asserts that marriage is not the cure for the disadvantages faced by same-sex couples, but that married couples should not have rights that other family forms do not. She argues that the law should not give marriage more value, as it is not a family form that is more important than others. Topics addressed include feminism and gay rights, the marriage-equality movement, countries where marriage matters less than in the US, domestic partner benefits, medical care and family and medical leave, distribution of assets and providing for children, wrongful death, worker's compensation, and Social Security."

Table of Contents:
  1. The Changing Meaning of Marriage
  2. Gay Rights and the Conservative Backlash
  3. Redefining Family
  4. The Right and the Marriage Movement
  5. LGBT Families and the Marriage-Equality Movement
  6. Countries Where Marriage Matters Less
  7. Valuing All Families
  8. Domestic Partner Benefits for All Families
  9. Coping with Illness: Medical Care and Family and Medical Leave
  10. When a Relationship Ends through Dissolution or Death: Distributing Assets and Providing for Children
  11. Losing an Economic Provider: Wrongful Death, Workers' Compensation, and Social Security
My take: As suggested above, an excellent book. While Polikoff supports same-sex couples' right to marry, her chief argument here is that marriage should be beside the point. Rather, all family units -- gay couples, unmarried male-female couples, single parents, adults caring for elderly or disabled relatives -- should receive the same support we (the U.S.) currently reserve exclusively for marriage. She suggests that the caretaking dyad -- the relationship between those who can't help being dependent on someone else for their care and well-being, i.e., children and those with disabilities, and their caregivers -- rather than the marital relationship be the focus of our social safety net, whether that's survivors' benefits when a wage-earner dies or providing medical leave and insurance for whoever one has an interdependent relationship with. Good stuff -- the kind of thing that's so well-articulated that it seems like it should have been obvious a long time ago.

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