Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families under the Law [NOOK Book]


The debate over marriage equality for same-sex couples rages across the country. Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage boldly moves the discussion forward by focusing on the larger, more fundamental issue of marriage and the law. The root problem, asserts law professor and LGBT rights activist Nancy Polikoff, is that marriage is a bright dividing line between those relationships that legally matter and those that don't. A woman married to a man for nine months is entitled to Social Security survivor's benefits when ...
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Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families under the Law

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The debate over marriage equality for same-sex couples rages across the country. Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage boldly moves the discussion forward by focusing on the larger, more fundamental issue of marriage and the law. The root problem, asserts law professor and LGBT rights activist Nancy Polikoff, is that marriage is a bright dividing line between those relationships that legally matter and those that don't. A woman married to a man for nine months is entitled to Social Security survivor's benefits when he dies; a woman living for nineteen years with a man or woman to whom she is not married receives nothing.

Polikoff reframes the debate by arguing that all family relationships and households need the economic stability and emotional peace of mind that now extend only to married couples. Unmarried couples of any sexual orientation, single-parent households, extended family units, and myriad other familial configurations need recognition and protection to meet the concerns they all share: building and sustaining economic and emotional interdependence, and nurturing the next generation.

Couples should have the choice to marry based on the spiritual, cultural, or religious meaning of marriage in their lives, asserts Polikoff. While marriage equality for same-sex couples is a civil rights victory, she contends that no one should have to marry in order to reap specific and unique legal results.

A persuasive argument that married couples should not receive special rights denied to other families, Polikoff shows how the law can value all families, and why it must.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

With her freshman book, law professor Polikoff, who has taught, litigated and written about family law, civil procedure and sexuality for more than 30 years, deftly argues that the law's narrow definitions of "family" and "marriage" no longer work in today's society-not just for the LGBT community but the country at large. With many households following untraditional family models, Polikoff says, we need to look at ways the law can change to value all families beyond those created by marriage, including same and different-sexed, married and unmarried couples. Polikoff draws on legal history and contemporary (often eye-opening) court cases to make her argument. Topics such as inheritance, tax consequences, workers' compensation death benefits, social security, probate, adoption and health care, plus their impact the diversity of today's "family units" are simplified for the reader. Polikoff wades through legislation and legalese with style and substance, plus a touch of flair. Impeccably researched, the book offers an evocative read that takes in the full breadth of the issues affecting marriages and avoids pedantry while remaining persuasive. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807044346
  • Publisher: Beacon Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2008
  • Series: Queer Ideas/Queer Action, #3
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 897,964
  • File size: 333 KB

Meet the Author

Nancy Polikoff is a Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law, where she teaches Sexuality and the Law and has taught Family Law for more than 20 years. Previously, she supervised the family law programs of the Women's Legal Defense Fund, and before that she practiced law as part of a feminist law collective, where she specialized in family law. For more than 30 years, she has been writing about, speaking about, and litigating cases involving lesbian and gay families. Professor Polikoff's articles have appeared in many law journals, including those at University of Chicago, Georgetown, Harvard, Hastings, and Hofstra. Her history of the development of the law affecting lesbian and gay parenting appears as a chapter in the 2000 book, Creating Change: Sexuality, Public Policy, and Civil Rights, edited by John D'Emilio, William Turner, and Urvashi Vaid. Professor Polikoff was successful appellate counsel in the case that the established the right of lesbian and gay couples to jointly adopt children in the District of Columbia, and in a Maryland case overturning a visitation order prohibiting any contact between a gay noncustodial father's children and his life partner. Visit her website at

Michael Bronski
 is professor of practice in media and activism in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Program at Harvard University. He has written extensively on LGBT issues for four decades, in both mainstream and queer publications, and is the author of three other books and editor of several anthologies. 
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Table of Contents

A Note from the Series Editor ix

Introduction 1

1 The Changing Meaning of Marriage 11

2 Gay Rights and the Conservative Backlash 34

3 Redefining Family 46

4 The Right and the Marriage Movement 63

5 LGBT Families and the Marriage-Equality Movement 83

6 Countries Where Marriage Matters Less 110

7 Valuing All Families 123

8 Domestic Partner Benefits for All Families 146

9 Coping with Illness: Medical Care and Family and Medical Leave 159

10 When a Relationship Ends through Dissolution or Death: Distributing Assets and Providing for Children 174

11 Losing an Economic Provider: Wrongful Death, Workers' Compensation, and Social Security 193

Conclusion 208

Acknowledgments 215

Notes 217

Index 243

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2008

    Equality and the Variation of the Definition of Family

    Nancy Polikoff, a professor of law at the American University Washington College of Law, has researched the very current topic of 'marriage rights' that for the most part are regarded by the general public as the battle between same sex and different sex marriage, an area where there is very little equality or respect to be gleaned from the media, and hence the public. Polikoff wisely approaches this disparity of human rights from an angle that allows every reader to become involved in her plea for reconsideration of what is labeled (and respected) as 'family'. Too often books on the subject of gay rights are so skewed that they end up preaching to the choir or throwing fire on a malignant issue: the audience craving equality under the law for legalizing same sex marriage is balanced against the radical right who condemn the domestic partnership idea as a sin. Polikoff recognizes this schism and in her very natural manner of writing poses examples of units of people whose rights are denied by Social Security policies, child care conflicts resulting from the definition of 'parent', and even rights for visitation in hospitals or hospices when the allowed visitors are 'family only'. Why must the label 'marriage' be the deciding factor in units of loving people whose potential for and production of caring homes be the norm? The subtitle of Polikoff's fine book - VALUING ALL FAMILIES UNDER THE LAW - is well chosen and in many ways is the major message of her book. She asserts that all family relationships and households deserve equal rights now saved only for married couples. This change in approach to the importance of re-defining 'what is a family' holds the value of her work: according to Polikoff, 'family' denotes unmarried couples of any sexual orientation, single-parent households, and the many variations of extended family units, each of which deserves recognition as mutually beneficial cohesive units entitled to the same benefits in the workplace, in government law, and in rights afforded to all citizens. In what will rightly become a powerful resource for sociological studies Nancy Polikoff has elected to make this carefully researched and documented text as reader friendly as possible. Libraries should add this book to their shelves for student studies: the general public would greatly benefit from reading her concepts in hopes of expanding the understanding and appreciation of the transformation of the concept of 'family' today. Highly recommended. Grady Harp

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2010

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