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Volume 23 • Number 3

July 2009



Public Reasons for Private Vows: A Response to Gilboa

by Jeremy R. Garrett

The question of whether a liberal state ought to recognize same-sex marriage must be situated within a broader inquiry into the proper relationship between political liberalism and marriage simpliciter. This general inquiry invites a diverse set of responses to the narrower question.

A first widely held view—call it thick marital egalitarianism—sees a straightforward link from central liberal values, such as neutrality, equality, and nondiscrimination, to the full and equal inclusion of all willing partnerships into the thickly constituted, state-defined institution of marriage. A second very different account—call it thin marital egalitarianism—sees the liberal commitment to neutrality as requiring a minimal legal framework of support for caring relationships sans additional antecedent restrictions, such as those thickly defining their nature (e.g., that they be heterosexual, dyadic, and/or lifelong) or their purpose(s) (e.g., financial, domestic, sexual, procreative). Finally, a third important view—call it liberal marital contractualism—holds that this kind of "minimal marriage" is not minimal enough; a liberal state ought to treat marriage as a primarily "private affair worked out between or among partners, with [its] involvement limited to the enforcement of (1) general laws (regarding property, torts, crime, etc.) and (2) particular contracts that are individually designed within a defensible system of contract law" (Garrett 2009, p. 161).

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ISSN: 2152-0542