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One Marriage Under God

The Campaign to Promote Marriage in America

Melanie Heath

Publication Year: 2012

The meaning and significance of the institution of marriage has engendered angry and boisterous battles across the United States. While the efforts of lesbians and gay men to make marriage accessible to same-sex couples have seen increasing success, these initiatives have sparked a backlash as campaigns are waged to “protect” heterosexual marriage in America. Less in the public eye is government legislation that embraces the idea of marriage promotion as a necessary societal good. 
In this timely and extensive study of marriage politics, Melanie Heath uncovers broad cultural anxieties that fuel on-the-ground practices to reinforce a boundary of heterosexual marriage, questioning why marriage has become an issue of pervasive national preoccupation and anxiety, and explores the impact of policies that seek to reinstitutionalize heterosexual marriage in American society. From marriage workshops for the general public to relationship classes for welfare recipients to marriage education in high school classrooms, One Marriage Under God documents in meticulous detail the inner workings of ideologies of gender and heterosexuality in the practice of marriage promotion to fortify a concept of “one marriage,” an Anglo-American ideal of Christian, heterosexual monogamy. 

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

This book owes a great debt to the Oklahomans who were willing to share with me their experiences and understandings of marriage politics and ideology in the United States. First, I want to thank all of the staff at the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative for their willingness to allow me to study the initiative so closely...

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pp. xi-xiii

During the process of writing and discussing the research for this book, people have often assumed that I chose to study marriage promotion in Oklahoma because it is the state where I was born and raised. Having spent most of my life in California, I found myself bristling at the suggestion. No, I would explain, I did...

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Introduction: Marriage Promotion, Heterosexuality, and “Being American”

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pp. 1-22

It was a sunny but chilly February day in Oklahoma City as I gathered at the state capitol with approximately four hundred people to rally for an issue that David Blankenhorn—the founder and president of the Institute for American Values, a pro-marriage organization—has characterized as a “national preoccupation...

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1. Unite! Marriage and American Identity

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pp. 23-41

Former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating gave the quote above at a lecture for the conservative Heritage Foundation, an influential public policy research institute that promotes the principles of “free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.” He describes...

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2. The Stakes of Gender and Heterosexuality

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pp. 43-69

On a dreary, rainy January day, I attended my first weekend marriage workshop at a church in Oklahoma City that I had located on the marriage initiative’s website. After introducing myself as a researcher who was studying Oklahoma’s efforts to strengthen marriage to the workshop leader and the two couples present...

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3. Widening the Marriage Gap

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pp. 71-92

The cover of Kay Hymowitz’s book Marriage and Caste in America presents a picture of a white nuclear family—husband, wife, daughter, and son—standing in a museumlike room with their backs to us as they gaze at three gilded photographs of single-mother black families from behind a roped partition. This representation...

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4. Teaching Marriage to Single Mothers and Inmates

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pp. 93-122

Some high-profile marriage advocates aim to restore a time when there was greater stigma for divorce or unwed childbearing. The political scientist James Q. Wilson differentiates stigma from prejudice, where prejudice is about mistakenly imputing group traits on individuals and stigma is blaming an individual for immoral...

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5. Marriage Recitals in High School

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pp. 123-149

In May 2009, Diane Sollee posted on the Smart Marriages listserv coverage of a recent documentary, “Oral Sex Is the New Goodnight Kiss,” and she lamented, “Why we need to focus on youth: Read it and shudder.” Interestingly, the documentary examines not American but Canadian middle-class, white girls who describe...

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6. Contesting Native American Marriage

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pp. 151-174

Marriage in the United States has been a central mechanism to confer national identity, citizenship, and rights. Three predominant levels of American society shape marriage. The first level contains the communities that offer approval or disapprobation of particular family configuration and practice. At the next level...

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Conclusion: The Power of the “M-Word”

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pp. 175-196

For over a decade, same-sex marriage has been a contentious issue in the United States, marked by contending ballot initiatives, legislation, and lawsuits to legalize or ban it. California exemplifies this factiousness. The Supreme Court of California ruled in 2008 that its law banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional...

Appendix A: Methods

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pp. 197-201

Appendix B: Sample Characteristics: In-depth Interviews of Participants in Workshops for the General Population

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pp. 203-204


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pp. 205-226


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pp. 227-246


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pp. 247-259

About the Author

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pp. 260

E-ISBN-13: 9780814744901
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814737125
Print-ISBN-10: 0814737129

Publication Year: 2012