New book by UO political scientist traces marriage and politics

With the debate over same-sex marriage in full swing on today's political radar, a new book by University of Oregon political science professor Priscilla Yamin takes on matrimony's historical and contemporary role as an institution that grants and withholds rights.

In preparing for the book, "American Marriage: A Political Institution," Yamin examined legal and political documents such as court cases and congressional reports. Analyzing them through a historical lens and comparing them across time, she traveled through uncharted political territory in an effort to reveal the importance of marriage and family in the context of American politics.

"There are not enough books in political science that examine the ways that marriage and family are political," Yamin says. "Marriage and family is usually understood as having to do only with private and personal issues."

Ex-slaves post emancipation, people of color, women in the 1960s, immigrants, homosexuals and people collecting welfare are among the communities and issues that Yamin discusses in the book as being influenced by the institution of marriage.

"American Marriage" (224 pages, University of Pennsylvania Press) emphasizes that the debate over same-sex marriage is not the first political issue that makes marriage a platform for determining individuals' status and identity as an American citizen or resident.

"The important question is whether marriage is the right place to decide and determine rights at all," she says. "There are over 1,000 federal benefits attached to marriage."

After six years of work and continually changing and developing research, the public will have a book that addresses these issues.

Yamin, an excerpt from the book's conclusion:

I set out in this project with two central aims: to understand the role of marriage in U.S. politics, and to understand the role of U.S. politics in marriage. I approached these questions historically in order to examine the development of each in relation to the other, giving particular emphasis to moments of major change in U.S. politics. What I found was a patterned tension between marital obligations and rights, a tension that defined marriage in a series of passionate conflicts across the eras I examined. I was thus led to a series of interlinked questions: Why do Americans find marriage so important as an expression of political identity? Why do conflicts over the institution recur? And, ultimately, what kind of politics does marriage produce?