Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date

2012

Center/Program

Center for Gender & Sexuality Law

Abstract

This post includes the table of contents, introduction and our comment as the editors of an interdisciplinary volume that explores the implications for law and policy of changes in marriage and family over the past half century. The volume includes chapters by leading social science researchers and family law scholars whose work focuses on these matters. The book captures the complexity of debates about the regulation of marriage and families and the best policy paths forward, through contributions by authors with widely varying perspectives. But it also aims to inform these debates by situating them in a framework grounded in social science research. This reflects our view that although family policy is, and should be, influenced by social and political values, it should also be shaped by empirical evidence. Our comment offers reflections on the legal and policy challenges posed by the dramatic changes in family life, as described and analyzed by the book’s contributors. The challenges are complex and do not lend themselves to simple solutions. Marriage has declined substantially, and a family law regime that assumes that most families are based on marriage is fast becoming outmoded. At the same time substantial research evidence supports that children benefit from the increased stability of marriage relative to other family forms. Marriage also continues to enjoy strong public support and to represent an important life goal for individuals across social classes, despite the increasingly significant links between family form and socioeconomic status and education. Moreover, the fact that access to marriage is a key political goal for advocates for gay equality indicates its continued social importance. We discuss the debates about the abolition of marriage, but conclude that the law should retain marriage as a status open to all couples desiring to register their commitments. We also recognize that little evidence supports the utility of promoting marriage and that many children will continue to be born into non-marital families. Thus we conclude that strengthening and supporting these families emerges is a key policy goal, and we explore some of the wide range of legal and policy reforms described by the volume’s contributors that might advance this goal.

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