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Fundamental Right to Marry

Fundamental Right to Marry

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Published by: Joe Bussone on Aug 09, 2010
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01/27/2013

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Yale Law School Student Scholarship
Student Scholarship Papers 
Yale Law School
Year 
2006
Questioning the Fundamental Right toMarry
Joseph A. Pull
Yale Law School, joseph.pull@yale.edu
This paper is posted at Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository.http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/student papers/26
 
 1
Questioning the Fundamental Right to Marry
Abstract
The Supreme Court has adopted the doctrine of a constitutional “fundamental right tomarry,” and has construed this doctrine to mean a fundamental right to state-recognized legal-marriage. However, the doctrine has several problems: (a) the Court never satisfactorily explainswhy marriage is a fundamental right; (b) the Court never defines the boundaries of marriage as afundamental right; and (c) the Court has occasionally treated marriage as if it were
not 
afundamental right.Further, the idea of a “fundamental right to marry” contains a debilitating internalcontradiction: the notion of a fundamental right implies firm privileges which the state cannotdeny, define, or disrespect, but marriage boundaries (the legal rules establishing who is eligibleto marry whom, what formalities are required for marriage, and the legal ramifications of marriage) in the United States have always been subject to almost plenary state control whichdenies some marriages and refuses to give legal effect to others. What can a “right to marry”protecting individuals against the state possibly mean when the state itself determines what thisthing called “marriage” is?Two observations about marriage suggest the answer to this question. First, the word“marriage” carries several different meanings which are related to each other but conceptuallydistinct. The “fundamental right to marry” conundrum arises in part from the conflation of thesevarious meanings. Second, the history of western marriage regulation—particularly thecontemporary rejection of the traditional beliefs about sexuality and marriage that once providedprincipled boundaries for a right to marry—explains why the various meanings of marriage oftenare conflated today, and it suggests how the law can escape the “fundamental right to marry”conundrum. The Supreme Court should reinterpret the fundamental right to marry as referring tothe practice of personal-marriage behaviors (cohabitation, economic partnership, joint decision-making, etc.) rather than state-recognized legal-marriage. This would preserve the entrenchedidea of a fundamental right to marry while cohering with the negative liberty nature of theCourt’s other recognized fundamental rights and accommodating the reality that the Constitutiondoes not (currently) textually define or even mention marriage in any way.
 
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Table of ContentsIntroduction
...................................................................................................................................3
I. Constitutional Marriage Cases: Origins of the Right to Marry
...........................................6A. Groundwork...........................................................................................................................6B. Genesis...................................................................................................................................8C. Fruition...................................................................................................................................9D. Exposition............................................................................................................................14
II. Constitutional Marriage Doctrine: Contradiction within the Right to Marry
................16A. Logical Tension....................................................................................................................17B. Rhetorical Tension...............................................................................................................19C. Legal Tension.......................................................................................................................25
III. Constitutional Marriage Reasoning: Justifications for the Right to Marry
...................29A. Purposive Approach: Reasoning from
Why
Marriage Is a Fundamental Right...................311. Tradition............................................................................................................................312. Personal Freedom..............................................................................................................323. Social Practice...................................................................................................................334. Political Justification.........................................................................................................365. Privacy..............................................................................................................................376. Economic Justification......................................................................................................397. Constitutional Text............................................................................................................39B. Deductive Approach: Reasoning from the Nature of Fundamental Rights.........................40C. Essential Approach: Reasoning from the Meaning of “Marriage”......................................421. Marriage as Bounded by Government Decree..............................................................442. Marriage as Bounded by Supra-Governmental Source................................................443. Marriage as Bounded by Individual Preferences..........................................................45A. Marriage as Personal Relationship...............................................................................47B. Marriage as Ideology....................................................................................................48C. Marriage as Legal Status..............................................................................................49D. The Origin of the Right to Marry Conundrum.....................................................................51
IV. Constitutional Marriage Roots: History of Western Marriage Regulation
....................54A. History of Western Marriage Regulation.............................................................................54B. Implications for the Fundamental Right to Marry...............................................................61
V. Questioning the Fundamental Right to Marry
...................................................................63
VI. Escaping the Constitutional Marriage Conundrum
.........................................................69
Conclusion
...................................................................................................................................73

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