This social history of marriage -- and inquiry into whether same-sex couples belong today -- was called "the bible" of the same-sex marriage movement.

What Is Marriage For? brought an entertaining and highly researched historical perspective to debates over same-sex marriage.

E.J. Graff’s first book What Is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution (Beacon Press, 1999, 2004) examined 2,500 years of a central pillar of social life– and asked why, for the first time in history, Western society is opening the institution to same-sex couples. In writing What Is Marriage For?, Graff researched the history of marriage and the family, and discovered that dramatic shifts have taken place in marriage policy, customs, theology, and law over the millennia. Her book, which has been called “a romp through history,” makes vividly clear that marriage has constantly shifted to suit each era and economy, each culture and class. The book serves as a historical primer relevant to a wide range of contemporary marriage and family debates: about love, sex, and money; mothers, fathers, and others; living together versus taking vows; pre-nups and divorce decrees; first vows and last rites; and much more. It offers a groundbreaking set of extensively researched arguments about contemporary marriage philosophy–all entertainingly written.

Published five years before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court made Massachusetts the first U.S. state to open marriage to same-sex pairs, What Is Marriage For? was re-issued with a new introduction for that breakthrough. It was the first book to examine the question of same-sex marriage from the point of view of women instead of men. Graff repeatedly appeared as a guest expert in film and television documentaries, and on radio and television talk shows, both in the U.S. and abroad. What Is Marriage For? has been extensively cited in every book on same-sex marriage that has since been published, and in dozens of court cases and law review articles. The book was summarized on the floor of the California legislature when it debated its domestic partnership and marriage proposals; was distributed to members of Vermont’s senate judicial committee when they were debating their breakthrough civil unions law; and was quoted by the Canadian Law Reform Commission in its recommendation that the Canadian government open marriage to same-sex pairs. The Unitarian Universalist Association created a group study guide for “What Is Marriage For?” and recommended that member congregations read and discuss the book.

Reviews, commentary, excerpts, and interviews with the author appeared in major publications nationwide, such as The New Yorker, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and in a dozen textbooks and social issues anthologies. The Chicago Tribune called it “an enlightening romp through the history of marriage in western Europe and the U.S.,” while Kirkus Reviews called it “a well-organized work of thoughtful popular history that displays considerable wit and verve, and that is in equal measure instructive and entertaining.”

See below for selected resources, reviews, and interviews with E.J. Graff:




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