Release Date: May 09, 2023
ISBN: 9781627782463
eISBN: 9781627782470

Moving Past Marriage: Why We Should Ditch Marital Privilege, End Relationship-Status Discrimination, and Embrace Non-marital History

by Jaclyn Geller Ph.D.

Married Americans enjoy over 1,000 benefits and entitlements that are withheld from our non-marital counterparts. Health insurance, immigration rights, tax privileges (such as the estate tax), and hiring policies favor the married. Marriage is subsidized and incentivized by the federal government. Social customs such as blockbuster weddings, subsidized honeymoons, and gifts reserved for wedded couples reify matrimony as a centering norm and further the idea that "marriage is best," a commonplace in popular psychology, where marriage-averse people are often tarred as "commitment-phobes." Despite this blatant and widespread prejudice, non-marital Americans -- non-marital people -- have not galvanized as a group to demand equality and inclusion. Why?

Moving Past Marriage argues that it is because of our troubled relationship to history. As women's history once was, non-marital history has been buried, so that the disenfranchisement that non-marital people share in wedlock-dominated societies, as well as our remarkable, far-ranging achievements, have been hard to spot. In recovering our own history, non-marital people can become self-aware as a group and begin to challenge marriage-centric thinking and practice.

Using examples of myriad luminaries who never married, this book shows how non-marital people have been a powerful creative force in history, contributing to science, art, religion, literature, and often demonstrating great courage during times of war. The book suggests how American society could be organized differently, in a way that acknowledges and validates love and family in all its diverse forms. It asks people living outside matrimony to learn our own history and, building on that history, create a non-marital consciousness.

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About the author Jaclyn Geller Ph.D.

Photo Credit: Eva Stern Rodriguez  Jaclyn Geller is a reader, writer, and professor. She professes at Central Connecticut State University and specializes in Restoration and eighteenth-century literature. She grew up in Southern Westchester, where she read The Sound and the Fury forty times. Not much else seemed to happen. She studied at English at Oberlin College. After graduation, she worked for a Jewish organization and impressed everyone with her ability to answer the phone,...

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Books by Jaclyn Geller Ph.D.

A seminal and iconoclastic study, Moving Past Marriage: Why We Should Ditch Marital Privilege, End Relationship-Status Discrimination, and Embrace Non-marital History is an extraordinary and groundbreaking read. Articulate, challenging, thoughtful and thought-provoking. . .


Midwest Book Review


Jaclyn Geller's Moving Past Marriage is a fresh and enraging look at the multi-tiered advantages--economic, social, professional--afforded married people, and a galvanizing call to recognize the full humanity, rich history and expansive future of non-marital life.


—Rebecca Traister, Author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation


What a racket our matrimony-obsessed culture has going, despite the declining popularity of the institution. Jaclyn Geller has written a fascinating account of marital privilege and the covert war on unmarrieds, providing a wealth of both historical research and entertaining gossip. We need to detach love from state-sponsored tactics for luring us into the marriage regime and punishing us if we try to escape, argues Geller, in a tour de force of brio and erudition.


—Laura Kipnis, author of Love in the Time of Contagion: A Diagnosis

Think you know about inequality? You may not know about this. Professor Jaclyn Geller gifts us with this vital, brilliant, and compelling exposé of a pervasive, consequential, and yet consistently ignored, system of inequality – the one that privileges married people and disadvantages everyone who is not married. A deeply researched argument, told with passion and humor.


—Bella DePaulo, Authorof How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century

Jaclyn Geller identifies a crucial moment of disjunction between social practice and law. More and more, people find happiness and meaning through cohabitation and other non-marital relationships, but American law remains committed to a fading marriage model. The results are costly, including, for example, discrimination by landlords against unmarried couples seeking housing opportunities and familial dislocation from the harsh real-estate tax treatment of non-married cohabitors. Geller offers a fascinating take on a hot topic.


—Michael A. Heller, Lawrence A. Wien Professor of Real Estate Law, Columbia University and Author of Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives

With marriage for everyone now a legal possibility in the U.S., it's time to contemplate marriage for none. Unmarried is the new married -- a liberating state where we can honor and celebrate relationships without being bound by outdated laws about the assumptions about the importance of legally binding them. Moving Past Marriage affirms this emergent possibility and will free people from traditions that do more to hinder than help loving relationships flourish.


—Amy Richards, co-author of Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future and author of How to Have a Child Without Losing Yourself

I have long admired Jaclyn Geller’s razor-sharp analysis of marriage and its discontents. Moving Past Marriage is packed with surprising and disturbing observations based on Geller’s research into both the history of marriage and non-marriage—including for children born as illegitimate—as well as insights drawn from our own twenty-first-century world. Moving Past Marriage is both a revelation and a call to action!


—Professor Nicholas L. Syrett, author of An Open Secret: The Family Story of Robert and John Gregg Allerton

With remarkable erudition, wit, and moral conviction, Jaclyn Geller follows the course of ‘marriage fundamentalism’ (or, if you prefer, ‘marriage supremacism’) from ancient times through the Protestant Reformation and into the labyrinth of legal and social privileges enjoyed by married couples in today’s United States. She makes a powerful case that the prejudice against the unmarried and their ‘illegitimate’ children represents one of Western culture’s greatest injustices.


—John Farrell, Waldo W. Neikirk Professor of Literature at Claremont McKenna College & Author of Paranoia and Modernity: Cervantes to Rousseau and The Utopian Dilemma in the Western Political Imagination

Forgive the spoiler: there’s nothing traditional (or natural) about America’s traditional family. Not its heterosexual couple. Not its conjugal love. Not its monogamous sex, male head-of-household, and marital (yet modestly lust-free) motherhood. Not even its quiver of children born after the wedding. Certainly not its white picket fence. Nevertheless, we bestow legitimacies and unparalleled advantages on marriage, thereby sustaining and naturalizing one relationship over all others. Geller’s Moving Past Marriage unspools the mythology enveloping and protecting the institution of marriage, thereby exposing not only the weak justifications encasing the case for marriage superiority but also the inherent discrimination against unmarrieds and their non-marital relationships. As Geller forcefully reminds us, this relationship-status discrimination has blinded us to the potent paths of personal and communal satisfaction that unmarrieds model for us all.


—Professor Candace Barrington, Co-Editor of The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Law and Literature

Jaclyn Geller's provocative and compelling study of the ways in which marriage dominates our political, social, and economic lives will make every reader take notice of his or her own choices to wed or not to wed. Her learned venture into history, literature, philosophy, and religion shows the underbelly of an institution that is surprisingly tenacious even in our increasingly secular society. She shows how same-sex marriage, often heralded as 'marriage equality' by its proponents, undid some of the most promising and radical elements of feminism and gay and lesbian liberation. This book will make you think about marriage in a whole new light.


—Katherine Hermes, co-author of Explaining Suicide: Patterns, Motivations, and What Notes Reveal and co-editor of Sex and Sexuality in a Feminist World

Moving Past Marriage should be required reading for anyone contemplating marriage in the United States. Of the 4.6 million people who marry each year, one wonders how many realize the implications of the ‘blank check’ contract they have signed, in which the terms aren’t found anywhere on the marriage license but are decided only after one partner tires of the other and the State assigns itself the third partner, deciding and enforcing contract terms. With her insightful research, Professor Geller points directly at the ‘Elephant in the Room’ by asking the timely question, is marriage worth it in 21st Century America? Divorce is HIGHLY LUCRATIVE, for judges, lawyers, court staff, custody evaluators, employability experts, probation officers, law enforcement, and prison guards. Avoid becoming a victim by avoiding marriage, or at least proceeding with eyes wide open only after reading Moving Past Marriage.

—Professor Tom Leustek, Founder and President of New Jersey Alimony Reform


As a married person who grew up in the wedding business, I nonetheless found Moving Past Marriage an engaging read. With an incisive eye and a dry wit, Jaclyn Geller examines our assumptions about marriage and the role it plays in American society. Her biographical observations about iconic non-marital history-makers like Jesus, Buddha, Hildegard of Bingen, and Florence Nightingale are especially thought-provoking.


—Danny Fingeroth, author of A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee and the forthcoming book, Jack Ruby: The Many Faces of Oswald’s Assassin

Marriage should not be the gateway to social and economic privilege. In her deeply researched book, Jaclyn Geller explains how true this is and why it matters so much.


—Ashton Applewhite, author of Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriage Do So Well and This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism

Single and proud? Single and frustrated? Coupled but ready to be an ally to your single (forever?) friends? Coupled and wondering why? Geller insightfully pulls back the curtain on the social and financial discrimination against singles, the assumption that married is best, and the importance of embracing the richness of relationships that defy labels.


—Steven Bereznai, Author of Gay and Single... Forever? 10 Things Every Gay Guy Looking for Love (and Not Finding It) Needs to Know

This is such an important book. As a family therapist for over five decades, I have seen thinking in the psychotherapy field evolve in many arenas such as mother-blaming, women's equality, and sexual orientation. But one area that has not even been considered is the demeaned status of singles in a marriage-based society. Geller calls for institutional change to remove the marital bias.


—Dr. Karen Gail Lewis, Author of With or Without a Man: Single Women Taking Control of Their Lives

With an unflinching gaze, Geller spotlights the social and economic privileges endowed on Americans who marry, while systematically discriminating against those who don’t. As an Australian, this book is an excruciating but vital reminder of the blatant injustice inherent in a blind commitment to marriage as the only legitimate way of life. This book will keep Australia moving toward a more inclusive society. Brava Jaclyn. Thank you!


  —Donna Ward, author of She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations on Life 


Jaclyn Geller’s illuminating and comprehensive historical and current account of socio-legal-political discrimination against never married persons spans centuries, continents, and virtually every aspect of law ranging from family, estate, and employment law to tort, immigration, and criminal law. Even if you were aware of how the law privileges marriage, this book will have you asking why we haven’t seen a civil rights movement for the never married.


—Solangel Maldonado, Eleanor Bontecou Professor of Law, Seton Hall University School of Law  

Jaclyn Geller demonstrates that the financial, legal, and societal benefits of marriage have a discriminatory flip side: unequal treatment of people who are unmarried. Say 'I do!' to this eye-opening book.


—Leora Tanenbaum, author of I Am Not a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet

The politics of marriage and non-marriage go way beyond same-sex marriage. There's a massive terrain of discrimination and disenfranchisement based on marital status. Jaclyn Geller opens the conversation.


—Dorian Solot, Co-Author of Unmarried to Each Other: The Essential Guide to Living Together as an Unmarried Couple


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