Mistaking Marriage for Social Policy

43 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2006


This Article examines the role of marriage in society, focusing on the state's use of marriage as a proxy for desirable outcomes in social policy. Its analytical point of departure is the normative vision of modern marriage embraced by many of its proponents. From there, the idealized marriage is analyzed, not as a monolithic, opaque institution, but as one whose functional components may be identified and examined. The Article identifies the following as the primary functions of the normative marital family: expression; companionship; sex/procreation; caretaking; and economic support or redistribution. Analyzing the roles in society of each of these functions, it concludes that: (1) the expressive and companionate functions of marriage provide no societal benefit sufficient to justify state interference in those functions; (2) its purely sexual and procreative functions merit privacy and should, in all respects, be treated no differently than nonmarital sex and procreation; but (3) its caretaking and economic support functions benefit society significantly. Indeed, here the state's interest is at its apex. Accordingly, direct support of these two closely related functions, rather than the crude proxy of marriage in its entirety, should be the focus of state social policy in this area.

Keywords: Family Law/Policy, Marriage

Suggested Citation

Hamilton, Vivian E., Mistaking Marriage for Social Policy. Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law, Vol. 11, p. 307, Spring 2004, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=898193

Vivian E. Hamilton (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics