Minimizing Marriage


Why is the state involved in marriage at all?

Doesn’t same-sex marriage still discriminate – against polyamorists, polygamists, asexuals, and those who build their lives around friendships, not romantic sexual relationships?

Why shouldn’t friends or small groups have rights to the extensive legal benefits of marriage?

Are feminist criticisms of marriage law valid – given egalitarian reforms?

What is the moral or ethical significance of marriage?

This book seeks to answer these questions, and more.

An overview of Minimizing Marriage by Elizabeth Brake (OUP, 2012)

Even in secular contexts, marriage retains sacramental connotations. Yet what is its moral significance? This book examines its morally salient features – promise, commitment, care, and contract – with surprising results. In Part One, “De-Moralizing Marriage,” essays on promise and commitment argue that we cannot promise to love and so wedding vows are (mostly) failed promises, and that marriage may be a poor commitment strategy. The book contends with the most influential philosophical accounts of the moral value of marriage to argue that it has no inherent moral significance. Further, the special value accorded marriage sustains amatonormative discrimination, or amatonormativity – discrimination against non-amorous or non-exclusive caring relationships such as friendships, adult care networks, polyamorous groups, or urban tribes. The discussion raises issues of independent interest for the moral philosopher such as the possibilities and bounds of interpersonal moral obligations and the nature of commitment.

The central argument of Part Two, “Democratizing Marriage,” is that liberal reasons for recognizing same-sex marriage also require recognizing groups, polyamorists, polygamists, friends, urban tribes, and adult care networks. Political liberalism requires the disestablishment of monogamous amatonormative marriage. Under the constraints of public reason, a liberal state must refrain from basing law solely on moral or religious doctrines; but only such doctrines could furnish reason for restricting marriage to male-female couples or romantic love dyads. Restrictions on marriage should thus be minimized. But public reason can provide a strong rationale for minimal marriage: care, and social supports for care, are a matter of fundamental justice. Part Two also responds to challenges posed by property division on divorce, polygyny, and supporting parenting, and builds on critiques of marriage drawn from feminism, queer theory, and race theory. It argues, using the example of minimal marriage, that liberalism has unexplored potential for feminist reform.

Link to OUP page for Minimizing Marriage by Elizabeth Brake

Also translated into Japanese for Hakutakusha Press.


Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Ethics, Hypatia, Humana Mente International Journal of Philosophical Studies,  Philosophy in Review, Reason, Res Publica, Social Theory and Practice, Journal of Applied Philosophy, The Philosopher’s Magazine, Journal of Homosexuality, APhEx Portale Italiano di Filosofia Analitica Giornale di Filosofia.

Selected short reads on marriage, polyamory, asexuality, and care:

“Single on Valentine’s Day and Happily So” in The Conversation, 2021

Review of Clare Chambers’ Against Marriage, in Mind, 2019

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Marriage and Domestic Partnership, by Elizabeth Brake, updated 2016

“Philosophers on the Supreme Court’s Gay Marriage Ruling,” Daily Nous, June 29, 2015 (this brief response to Obergefell warns against amatonormativity as we celebrate same-sex marriage rights)

“Why can’t we be (legally recognized) friends?,” theForum (LSE), September 2015

“Just Care: What Society Owes the Elderly,” Philosop-her, January 16, 2015

Watch my series of five short animated lectures on the state’s role in marriage on WiPhi – Wireless Philosophy!

Edited Collections

After Marriage (ed. Elizabeth Brake, OUP 2016)

amShould marriage reform stop at same-sex marriage?

Should marriage be abolished?

Or made temporary – with 5-year renewable contracts?

Should it be opened to polygamists and polyamorists on an equal footing?

Does marriage help or harm children – and romantic love?

In this book, 10 philosophers debate these questions, and more, in new essays.

Reviews: James Ryerson, The New York Times, Raja Halwani, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Mara Marin, Hypatia

Philosophical Foundations of Children’s and Family Law

(edited by Elizabeth Brake and Lucinda Ferguson, OUP, 2018)


New essays in law and philosophy on a broad range of topics in children’s and family law.

Addresses topics such as same-sex marriage, polygamy and polyamory, alimony, cohabitation, gestational surrogacy and assisted reproductive technologies, child support, parental rights and responsibilities, children’s rights, family immigration, religious freedom, and the rights of paid caregivers as well as philosophical concepts of care, intimacy, and the nature of family and family law itself.

Selected media:

“Is Marriage a Fraud?,” interview with Anjana Vaswani, Mumbai Mirror, July 26, 2012 (also printed in The Times of India).

“Should Marriage be Abolished, Minimized, or Left Alone?,” Bella dePaulo, Psychology Today, July 17, 2012.

“Il matrimonio? Meglio minimo,” Giuliano Torrengo and Vera Tripodi, Il Sole 24 Ore (Italy), June 10, 2012.

Page 99 Test feature.

Daily Xtra (Vancouver), “What Colin Firth Shows about Metaphysics of Love,” Niko Bell,, March 2015

Discussed on TVO (TV Ontario) show, “The Agenda with Steve Paikin,”

Philosophy TV, 2011, with Simon May