Wolfson, Evan. “Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry”, Simon and Schuster, 2005.
Evan Wolfson’s “Why Marriage Matters” is one of the books that I lost when Hurricane Katrina hit and took my library from me and I had not yet reviewed it. I decided to get a new copy and finally get around to posting a review. A lot has happened in the ten years after the book’s publication and what did come to be turns out to have been generated by this book. Wolfson tells us that, “At its core, the freedom-to-marry movement is about the same thing every civil rights struggle has been about: taking seriously our country’s promise to be a nation its citizens can make better, its promise to be a place where people don’t have to give up their differences or hide them in order to be treated equally.”
Wolfson gives us a compelling, intelligently reasoned discussion of a question at the forefront of our national consciousness. He has dedicated his life to the protection of individuals’ rights and our Constitution’s commitment to equal justice under the law and is regarded as one of the most influential lawyers in this country and was just selected by “The Forward” as one of the five most influential Jews in America today. Here he has written a clear, easy to understand thesis on the significance of the right to marry in America — not just for some couples, but for all.
Some of us have wondered why the fight for marriage equality has taken precedence over other important issues that the LGBT community faces and Wolfson explains why the word “marriage” is so important by asking these questions: Will marriage for same-sex couples hurt the “sanctity” of the institution? How can people of different faiths reconcile their beliefs with the idea of marriage for same-sex couples? How will allowing gay couples to marry affect children?
By giving answers to these questions, Wolfson demonstrates why the right to marry is important — indeed necessary — for all couples and for America’s promise of equality. Wolfson regards the movement for marriage equality as “one of the first important civil rights campaigns of the 21st century” and he has gone to the long-established protest traditions in U.S. history: abolition, the women’s suffrage movement and the racial equality movements of the 1950s and ’60s. Unlike those who support gay marriage as a way to regulate what they see as the self-destructive sexual practices of homosexuals, Wolfson pushes the moral issue to the side and discusses the right to marry as part of each citizen’s inalienable claim to what the Declaration of Independence calls the “pursuit of happiness.” He has framed his argument strictly in terms of civil rights and grounding it in conventional definitions of the public significance of marriage. Wolfson excises “gay marriage” from the debate entirely, “writing that the term “implies that same-sex couples are asking for rights and privileges that married couples do not have, or for rights that are something lesser or different from what non-gay couples have. In fact, we don’t want ‘gay marriage,’ we want marriage.” When he wrote this book, gay marriage was available in Boston.
Wolfson’s book addresses the concerns of the everyday American with respect and accuracy. Wolfson looks at the issues from the religious response to the historical argument, from racial equality to what the opponents of marriage equality do not want you to know. We are very aware of consistent reverence to the founding principles of our great country and he reminds us of those principles by giving inspiring quotes from American leaders through the ages.
The true message of the book is one of unity and hope—now we see how that hope has indeed paid off. The arguments are compelling and the examples of how marriage impacts individual lives holds us.
Wolfson addresses this subject in layman’s terms but without being too simple. He answers the questions (and explains his answers) that are we all think about. He shows that marriage equality is a civil right and explains how marriage equality parallels other civil rights issues, dissecting arguments made against marriage equality. We see how the same arguments that have been used at various points over the past two hundred years to deny other citizens their constitutionally guaranteed civil rights continue to be used to this day to deny marriage equality.
Addressing the anti-same-sex marriage constitutional amendments that had been voted on in several states in the past, we see why, after these battles are over, there will still be much to struggle for in the days beyond. Wolfson tells what he sees coming in the future and he prepares us to understand exactly what is happening.
Wolfson’s arguments are succinct and he clearly outlines and explains the fairness of bringing about marriage equality in America while showing how this issue is ultimately everyone’s struggle.