Laws relating to marriage illustrate the tension between individual privacy and public morality. There are many different laws that limit when, how, and to whom a person may be married. This chapter shows that a lot of marriage laws are based solely on public morality and hence illegitimately restrict individual liberty, but argues that some marriage laws may be consistent with the morality of American law because they are intended to prevent harm to others. Before considering how legitimate marriage laws differ from illegitimate ones, it explores what exactly “marriage” is. More specifically, the chapter discusses the nature of civil marriage and how it differs from religious marriage, marriage as the exclusive means to lawful cohabitation with another person, and same-sex marriage. It also looks at how the morality of American law applies to same-sex marriage, adultery, polygamy, and incest.
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