Monday, June 22, 2015

Stephen Macedo's "Just Married"

Stephen Macedo is the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics and the former director of the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. His many books include Liberal Virtues and Diversity and Distrust. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Macedo applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Just Married: Same-Sex Couples, Monogamy, and the Future of Marriage, and reported the following:
From page 99:
So far we have focused on the symbolic dimension of marriage as a distinctive form of commitment. The symbolism of marriage has been most central to the very public political debates over same-sex marriage, which is understandable. Focusing only on the symbolic meaning provides only a partial picture of the institution. This chapter fills in the picture by furnishing an overview of three important subjects.

I first describe the specific benefits, responsibilities, obligations, and protections that are associated with marriage by law. These are complex but extremely important. This overview of the various legal implications of marriage will help make clear that marriage as it exists today is well suited to same-sex couples and their relationships. The way for same-sex couples has been cleared by the women’s movement and sex equality in marriage. Entering into marriage does not, however, involve simply the acquisition of special marital benefits, as critics of marriage often argue. Wedlock also brings with it a variety of “special” marital obligations and restrictions. This balance of rights and responsibilities is crucial to the fairness of the institution: marriage is not simply a “reward” or an honorific. The law is designed to recognize, facilitate, and assure (to some degree) the fulfillment of the distinctively marital commitment, and that involves the assumption of special responsibilities as well as benefits.

The second task of this chapter is to summarize the benefits that flow to spouses, children, and the wider society as a consequence of marriage. This is highly controversial terrain but an important part of what is at stake in today’s debates.

The third task is to uncover the huge class divide that has opened with respect to access to marriage….
Page 99 is the very beginning of chapter 5, which sets out the specific legal entitlements and obligations of married couples, arguing that these are already well designed for same-sex couples. This is owing to the spousal equality in marriage: a historic achievement of the women’s rights movement.

The book, it may be helpful to know, asks and answers three broad questions: Why same-sex marriage? Why marriage, as a special relationship recognized and supported by law? And, why monogamy? I argue in favor of all three – same-sex marriage, the institution of marriage, and monogamy – on the basis of justice, the Constitution, and the good of society, families, and individuals.

The argument is a direct response to the conservative warning, voiced by Justice Antonin Scalia and countless others on the political right, that same sex marriage places us on a “slippery slope” to polygamy, incest, bestiality, etc. The argument also responds to those many critics of marriage on the left who, in effect, embrace the slippery slope by calling for the abolition of marriage as a special status in law, the public recognition of polygamous unions, or even, according to some, acceptance of consensual adult incest (when there is no danger of producing children with genetic defects).

The book is a defense, in other words, of the moderate middle. It invites readers to take the historic occasion of publicly recognized marriage equality to re-appreciate the virtues of marriage and monogamy.
Learn more about Just Married at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue