Black Citizenship Through Marriage?: Reflections on the Moynihan Report at 50

Posted: 24 Jun 2016

See all articles by R. A. Lenhardt

R. A. Lenhardt

Fordham University School of Law

Date Written: May 2016


This essay looks to surface and then interrogate the assumptions about black citizenship and marriage at the heart of the Moynihan Report. In doing so, it engages directly with arguments about marriage's citizenship-conferring capacity articulated during Reconstruction by whites and many newly freedpersons, as well as the claims more recently advanced by LGBT rights advocates and even U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in his majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, a decision that recognized the Fourteenth Amendment right of same-sex couples to marry. Insofar as it examines the racial inequality that informs the spiraling rates of black marriage, the essay also intervenes in current debates about whether black lives matter in America. While post-Ferguson solutions for policing reforms or interventions have not often touched on matters of race and family, I argue that the racial inequality reflected in our criminal justice system cannot be easily divorced from that which still shapes and constrains the functioning of black families -- marital or nonmarital -- in the United States.

Suggested Citation

Lenhardt, Robin A., Black Citizenship Through Marriage?: Reflections on the Moynihan Report at 50 (May 2016). Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal, Vol. 25, No. 347, 2016, Available at SSRN:

Robin A. Lenhardt (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

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