280 pages | 6 x 9 | 8 illus.
Cloth 2018 | ISBN 9780812250152 | $45.00s | Outside the Americas £37.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the series Politics and Culture in Modern America
View table of contents and excerpt
"Strange Bedfellows offers an original perspective on the post-World War II 'marriage revolution.' By focusing on the interactions of feminist advocates, 'men's rights' groups, legislatures, and the courts, Alison Lefkovitz insightfully charts the emergence of new policies toward divorce, alimony, and marital property. In so doing, she reveals the disparate and harmful impact of marriage reform on the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and gay couples. This is an important and timely book."—Kathy Peiss, University of PennsylvaniaIn the inaugural issue of Ms. Magazine, the feminist activist Judy Syfers proclaimed that she "would like a wife," offering a wry critique of the state of marriage in modern America. After all, she observed, a wife could provide Syfers with free childcare and housecleaning services as well as wages from a job. Outside the pages of Ms., divorced men's rights activist Charles Metz opened his own manifesto on marriage reform with a triumphant recognition that "noise is swelling from hundreds of thousands of divorced male victims." In the 1960s and 70s, a broad array of Americans identified marriage as a problem, and according to Alison Lefkovitz, the subsequent changes to marriage law at the state and federal levels constituted a social and legal revolution.
"The legal evolution of marriage in the United States is as old as the Republic. But beginning in the 1960s, the pace of legal change accelerated with the universal adoption of no-fault divorce. Strange Bedfellows traces this unfinished revolution, highlighting the roles played by men as much as women in challenging the gendered obligations of marriage. As Alison Lefkovitz brilliantly shows, even as the breadwinning/homemaking model of marriage was dismantled for the privileged with decidedly unequal results for women and men, it was redeployed against the poor, especially racial minorities, immigrants, and LGBTQ couples. Placing the legal revolution of marriage firmly in the economic, cultural, and political transformation of the 1960s to the present, Lefkovitz offers a sobering picture of marriage as Americans' fundamental social safety net."—Barbara Young Welke, University of Minnesota
The law had long imposed breadwinner and homemaker roles on husbands and wives respectively. In the 1960s, state legislatures heeded the calls of divorced men and feminist activists, but their reforms, such as no-fault divorce, generally benefitted husbands more than wives. Meanwhile, radical feminists, welfare rights activists, gay liberationists, and immigrant spouses fought for a much broader agenda, such as the extension of gender-neutral financial obligations to all families or the separation of benefits from family relationships entirely. But a host of conservatives stymied this broader revolution. Therefore, even the modest victories that feminists won eluded less prosperous Americans—marriage rights were available to those who could afford them.
Examining the effects of law and politics on the intimate space of the home, Strange Bedfellows recounts how the marriage revolution at once instituted formal legal equality while also creating new forms of political and economic inequality that historians—like most Americans—have yet to fully understand.
Alison Lefkovitz teaches history in the Federated History Department at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University-Newark.