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A Case for Civil Marriage

14 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2006  

Carol Sanger

Columbia Law School


There has been a frenzy of legislative activity aimed at nailing down the legal definition of marriage to make sure that there will be no more nonsense about same-sex monograms or same-sex marriage applications. In an effort to slow down the frenzy, and to encourage those within the academy to think harder about the on-going problem of what to do about marriage, Professor Edward Stein has posed a straightforward question: Should civil marriage simply be abolished? In this mini-symposium, Professors Edward Zelinsky and Daniel Crane have provided two answers to his question: yes and yes.

Although I am a Contract Law enthusiast, both arguments began to make me nervous about abolishing civil marriage. I therefore want to explain why, after reading these intriguing papers, I have become an anti-abolitionist, or at least a contract skeptic. I organize my remarks around two propositions. The first is that Professor Zelinsky has more faith in the ability of contract law to organize intimate relationships than I do. I will use his paper to talk about a few general problems of contracting for marriage. Proposition number two is that Professor Crane has too little faith in law and I have too little faith in religion to justify returning marriage to an exclusively religious domain, however valid the historical support may be. I will use Professor Crane's paper to discuss the particular perils, of privatizing to religion, for women and same-sex couples.

Keywords: marriage, civil, contracts, same-sex

Suggested Citation

Sanger, Carol, A Case for Civil Marriage. Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 27, p. 1311, 2006; Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 06-133. Available at SSRN:

Carol Sanger (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

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