Untying the Knot: Marriage, the State, and the Case for Their Divorce

WRB 28.1 (January/February 2011)
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Tamara Metz.

Activists argue about how to define it, judges and legislators decide who should benefit from it, and scholars consider how the state should protect those who are denied it. Few, however, ask whether the state should have anything to do with marriage in the first place.

Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defense of the Marriage-Free State

In "Untying the Knot," Tamara Metz addresses this crucial question, making a powerful argument that marriage, like religion, should be separated from the state. Marriage itself should be bestowed by those best suited to give it the necessary ethical authority--religious groups and other kinds of communities.

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Divorcing the state from marriage is dictated by nothing less than basic commitments to freedom and equality. It shows that, as long as marriage and the state are linked, marriage will be a threat to liberalism and the state will be a threat to marriage.

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An important and timely rethinking of the relationship between marriage and the state, "Untying the Knot" will interest political theorists, legal scholars, policymakers, sociologists, and anyone else who cares about the fate of marriage or liberalism. But it seems that the transition of liberal political values from the abstract to the concrete is not so straightforward, and has not universally resulted in a simultaneous balancing of liberty, equality, stability and diversity.

As such, is the liberal democratic state in its current Western manifestation capable of meeting the challenge Metz presents it with?

Should Marriage Be Abolished?

But in order for her argument to be practically applicable, the political context in which it would be implemented has some ground to gain. Her prose is refreshingly enjoyable to read, and spells out her case at a measured pace.

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Whether or not you agree with the argument Metz presents, you will understand it. She is researching gendered welfare state change and neoliberalism in the Czech Republic, including the impact of EU accession, with a focus on the everyday lives and subjectivities of women and men. Read reviews by Amy.

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Marriage is at the center of one of today's fiercest political debates. Activists argue about how to define it, judges and legislators decide who should benefit from it. Marriage is at the center of one of today's fiercest political debates. Activists argue about how to define it, judges and legislators decide who should ben.

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