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Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families Under the Lawby Nancy Polikoff
Synopses & Reviews
Part of the Queer Ideas series, edited by Michael Bronski
QUEER IDEAS—a new series of LGBT hardcovers that address important intellectual questions facing the movement.
A persuasive argument for why married couples, gay or straight, should not receive special rights denied to other families
The problem with American law, Nancy Polikoff asserts, is that marriage is the dividing line between those relationships that matter and those that don't. A woman married to a man for nine months is entitled to Social Security survivor's beneand#64257;ts when he dies; a woman living for nineteen years with a man or woman to whom she isn't married is left without government support.
Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage grapples with a pressing topic—the and#64257;ght for marriage equality—but signiand#64257;cantly moves the discussion forward by focusing on the larger social and political issues of marriage and family law. Polikoff reframes the family-rights debate by arguing that marriage should not bestow special legal privileges upon couples because people, both heterosexual and LGBT, live in a variety of relationships—including unmarried couples, single-parent households, extended biological family units, and myriad other conand#64257;gurations. These relationships, like marriage, are about building and sustaining economic and emotional interdependence and nurturing the next generation. Polikoff shows how the law can value all families, and why it must.
"A much-needed intervention in the contemporary debate about marriage and family. Polikoff's argument is provocative, illuminating, and original."
—John D'Emilio, author of Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin
Nancy D. Polikoff is professor of law at American University Washington College of Law.
"With her freshman book, law professor Polikoff, who has taught, litigated and written about family law, civil procedure and sexuality for more than 30 years, deftly argues that the law's narrow definitions of 'family' and 'marriage' no longer work in today's society — not just for the LGBT community but the country at large. With many households following untraditional family models, Polikoff says, we need to look at ways the law can change to value all families beyond those created by marriage, including same and different-sexed, married and unmarried couples. Polikoff draws on legal history and contemporary (often eye-opening) court cases to make her argument. Topics such as inheritance, tax consequences, workers' compensation death benefits, social security, probate, adoption and health care, plus their impact the diversity of today's 'family units' are simplified for the reader. Polikoff wades through legislation and legalese with style and substance, plus a touch of flair. Impeccably researched, the book offers an evocative read that takes in the full breadth of the issues affecting marriages and avoids pedantry while remaining persuasive." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
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. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The debate over marriage equality for same-sex couples rages across the country. Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage boldly moves the discussion forward by focusing on the larger, more fundamental issue of marriage and the law. The root problem, asserts law professor and LGBT rights activist Nancy Polikoff, is that marriage is a bright dividing line between those relationships that legally matter and those that don't. A woman married to a man for nine months is entitled to Social Security survivor's benefits when he dies; a woman living for nineteen years with a man or woman to whom she is not married receives nothing.
Polikoff reframes the debate by arguing that all family relationships and households need the economic stability and emotional peace of mind that now extend only to married couples. Unmarried couples of any sexual orientation, single-parent households, extended family units, and myriad other familial configurations need recognition and protection to meet the concerns they all share: building and sustaining economic and emotional interdependence, and nurturing the next generation.
Couples should have the choice to marry based on the spiritual, cultural, or religious meaning of marriage in their lives, asserts Polikoff. While marriage equality for same-sex couples is a civil rights victory, she contends that no one should have to marry in order to reap specific and unique legal results.
A persuasive argument that married couples should not receive special rights denied to other families, Polikoff shows how the law can value all families, and why it must.
About the Author
Nancy Polikoff is a Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law, where she teaches Sexuality and the Law and has taught Family Law for more than 20 years. Previously, she supervised the family law programs of the Women's Legal Defense Fund, and before that she practiced law as part of a feminist law collective, where she specialized in family law. For more than 30 years, she has been writing about, speaking about, and litigating cases involving lesbian and gay families. Professor Polikoff's articles have appeared in many law journals, including those at University of Chicago, Georgetown, Harvard, Hastings, and Hofstra. Her history of the development of the law affecting lesbian and gay parenting appears as a chapter in the 2000 book, Creating Change: Sexuality, Public Policy, and Civil Rights, edited by John D'Emilio, William Turner, and Urvashi Vaid. Professor Polikoff was successful appellate counsel in the case that the established the right of lesbian and gay couples to jointly adopt children in the District of Columbia, and in a Maryland case overturning a visitation order prohibiting any contact between a gay noncustodial father's children and his life partner. Visit her website at beyondstraightandgaymarriage.com.
Michael Bronski is professor of practice in media and activism in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Program at Harvard University. He has written extensively on LGBT issues for four decades, in both mainstream and queer publications, and is the author of three other books and editor of several anthologies.
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