Relationship status? It's complicated
Brook, Heather Jane
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Not since the radical reforms to divorce enacted in the heady 1970s has there been so much huffing and puffing and anxiety about the whole institution of marriage being blown down. At the centre of this anxiety is the relationship of marriage and sexuality: is marriage (always, necessarily, naturally) heterosexual? Should it be? These questions are being debated not just in Australia, but in many places around the world; including, of course, in the United States, where the Clinton administration’s Defence of Marriage Act of 1996 established similar ends to the Howard Government’s Marriage Act amendments of 2004: namely, to limit marriage to man/woman pairings (King 2007). Marriage has, for the most part, served heterosexuality (and its gendered foundations) in ways that normalise and endorse heterosexuality as ‘natural’. At times marriage has carried heavily gendered weight, and arguably still does. (Does ‘wife’ mean the same thing as ‘husband’, and are both these terms interchangeable with ‘spouse’, or do they all have different connotations?) The issue for many is whether marriage should remain exclusively heterosexual, or whether marriage can and should be expanded to include same-sex as well as different-sex relationships. As a social institution, marriage is entangled in sex, religion and politics, and as such can inspire heated controversy. The three books reviewed here address various questions about marriage, relationships and politics.