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5 States Where "Living in Sin" Is Illegal? America's Irrational Love Affair With the Institution of Marriage

Believe it or not, cohabitation is still illegal in five states. Why is the law so behind, and what's at stake?

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Those kinds of articles actually go way back in American history, but they tap into tremendous anxiety and fear with the assumption that correlation is causation. I sense that isn’t just because we have lots of children of divorce but because when the country is unstable and the economy is still recovering and our country’s national greatness is not what it was, marriage and divorce become the symbol of the nation. They pick that anxiety and mirror it. My opinion is you’re pretty much going to have to do what is best for you and what accords with your beliefs. Dear Abby had to change her views on cohabitation; she was advising people not to do it until the ’90s, and then she capitulated and said it seems to be OK. I just don’t think that it’s very beneficial to engage in fear-mongering about cohabitation and fears of divorce.

I’ve never been terribly fond of the idea of marriage, and it’s interesting to me that the gay community has increasingly moved from this idea of abolishing marriage to making marriage the central part of the movement. Why do you think that change occurred?

The No. 1 reason was the AIDS epidemic. It showed the fragility of life and the fragility of non-legally recognized relationships and the need for social benefits associated with legal marriage. On top of that, there was the lesbian baby boom and, in general, a new generation of gay liberationists who were not coming out of ’60s critique of the nuclear family.

Cohabitation is not a social movement, but it gets a huge amount of energy from gay civil rights. So when gay civil rights moved in the direction of legal marriage the issue of non-marriage benefits seemed to take a back seat. There was the potential at one point that there would be a both-and strategy — that people would be for the right to marry and the right to not have to marry — but it hasn’t been the case. Now it seems like all the energy goes into the right to marry.

For me the ideal future outcome is something close to the Scandinavian model in which many of our rights toward hospital visitation, inheritance, healthcare and so forth are disentangled from the institution of marriage. How realistic is this in the U.S.?

I don’t think it’s very realistic to expect that outcome. I have been absolutely surprised by the success of the legal same-sex marriage movement and that we are on the verge of declaring DOMA null and void. This is a positive movement in same-sex marriage but my calculation is same-sex marriage has to happen first then cohabitation after that, so it’s kind of at the end of the train. I see the train is picking up and moving faster but that end point doesn’t seem to be coming any time soon.


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