Marriage and the State

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

What is it

With what right does the state say who can and cannot marry? The state has, at various times, said that people of different races cannot marry, that people of the same sex cannot marry, that no one can marry more than one person at at time.  But with what legitimate authority can the state make such prohibitions? John and Ken welcome Richard Mohr from the University of illinois at Urbana-Champaign, author of The Long Arc of Justice: Lesbian and Gay Marriage, Equality, and Rights.

Listening Notes

Where does the state get the authority to regulate marriage? Marriage predates religion and political institutions, so why does anyone get to regulate it? How is marriage difference than friendship? How far do state concerns about marriage go? John introduces Richard Mohr, professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. What is marriage? Mohr thinks that marriage is a mode of living in a certain amount of intimacy. What is the principle by which the state can intervene in marriage? Mohr thinks that the state can support the value of marriage. Mohr emphasizes the importance of trust and transparency in the marital relationship.


Are there any good arguments against gay marriage? Mohr thinks that most arguments against it rest on circular definitions. What about religious arguments against it? Mohr thinks that religious and state interests should be sharply separated in marriage. What are legitimate reasons for public policy? Why should the state promote one form of intimacy, say, in marriage, over another, say, in friendship? Mohr points out that there are no longer any gender distinctions in marriage law. Are civil unions good substitutes for marriages?


Mohr thinks that one of the main forms of oppression against homosexuals is denying them access to marriage. Ken asks why the state heaps all the benefits on married couples and gives nothing to single folk. Mohr thinks that the marriage ceremony does not create a relationship but, rather, emphasizes it. John distinguishes between views of marriage purely as relationships, as contracts, and as a symbolic concept. Is there an essence of marriage? Mohr thinks that there is and his view captures a large part of it.

  • Amy Standen the Roving Philosophical Reporter (Seek to 04:48): Amy Standen interviews Sarah Barringer Gordon, professor of law and history at the University of Pennsylvania, about the relation between the state, law, and marriage.


  • Ian Shoales the Sixty Second Philosopher (Seek to 37:20): Ian Shoales covers various philosophical views on marriage throughout the ages.


  • Conundrum (Seek to 49:12): Chris from Massachusetts calls in about his bad memory. He loves to read but forgets what he has read a few months later. He asks whether it makes sense to keep reading instead of giving up and watching television.

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Richard Moher, Professor of Philosophy, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


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