Marriage Outside the Constitution

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5 Responses

  1. Matt says:

    While some of the criticisms here likely apply to many real people, they are put much too categorically to be true. Take this:

    We might well be tempted to argue that our welfare system should graduate the system of entitlement more, so that there is not such a cliff of disallowance when individuals start sharing income. Reduced to its most basic, that argument is “we should subsidize marriage.” It is hard to imagine a left-of-center academic making that argument.

    In fact, many “left” people writing on welfare argue that the perverse incentives noted here should be done away with, and at least some of them do this explicitly with marriage in mind. For a good example, see the work of Harry Brighouse at the University of Wisconsin. (His web page seems messed up or I’d like to some papers.) Others are not hard to find if you actually bother to look.

    Does this mean we should support the “marriage promotion policy” of PRWORA? Not obviously- that act didn’t do anything to solve the problems noted above, and in fact made them worse. It substituted lecturing for reforms in the areas you note need reform. So why should it be supported? It doesn’t do what you want, and as you note, it’s probably needless. Who would support that. Finally, it surprises me greatly to see this sentence,

    Why there is so little feminist critique of tax policy baffles me.

    Without a mention of Anne Alstott, since she’s an extremely well known tax scholar, and works just on these issues, arguing for the sorts of things you mention.

    So, while there’s some truth here, and it’s worth thinking about, it would be better stripped of the categorical claims, and with some recognition that there are a fair number of well-known people on the ‘left’ working on just these issues.

  2. Katharine Baker says:


    I am completely guilty of trying to condense my comments so as to not go on too long. In doing so I decided not to o mention work being done by some of the people you mentioned and others whom you didn’t. I’m sure I was too categorical. In my defense, I don’t think I was any more categorical than Robin was in her book, in the numerous places where she decried the absence of more normative scholarship. You said you didn’t read the book, maybe if you had you’d understand the spirit in which I made my comments.

  3. “But if we can’t fight a tax policy that edifies marriage at a cost of gender promotion, couldn’t we at least use the edification of marriage to alleviate the hardships on low-income couples who do want to marry? Just as failure to think more seriously about the goods of marriage hurts same sex couples who want to enjoy the benefits of marriage, so failure to defend marriage hurts low-income couples who cannot afford marriage.”

    Bravo! Bravo!

    Thanks for a persuasive post. about synergies related to the Common Good cut across some of our preconceived ideas about whose interests align with whose.

  4. A.J. Sutter says:

    “I am not suggesting that we reject the progressive critique of relationship or that we ignore the critique of privacy.” — Wow, do I ever feel old: I didn’t have any idea there are such critiques, nor do I find imagining what they might be an intuitively obvious exercise. This doesn’t prevent me from thinking, though, that you make a number of good points in this post.

  5. Maxine Eichner says:

    Love this, Kathy!