Marriage Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife. The marriage contract conveys rights and duties to both partners and continues until death or divorce.

The conditions and terms of marriage, including who may marry, are largely governed by state laws. Before the mid-twentieth century, the Supreme Court infrequently considered issues involving marriage. One of its main concerns was to ensure that states honored marriages that took place in other states. In its first major case regarding marriage, Reynolds v. United States[case]Reynolds v. United States[Reynolds v. United States] (1879), the Court ruled against polygamy, declaring that it was not subject to First Amendment protection.

Beginning in the 1960’s, the Court made several decisions involving marriage. In Griswold v. Connecticut[case]Griswold v. Connecticut[Griswold v. Connecticut] (1965), the Court overturned a law prohibiting the use of contraceptives by married persons. In its ruling, it stated that the law violated marital privacy by allowing the police to invade the “sacred precincts of marital bedrooms.” Two years later, in Loving v. Virginia[case]Loving v. Virginia[Loving v. Virginia], the Court held that a Virginia state law prohibiting interracial marriages (miscegenation) was unconstitutional. In its ruling, the Court clearly stated that marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man” and that the decision to get married was an individual decision not to be limited by law. In Zablocki v. Redhail[case]Zablocki v. Redhail[Zablocki v. Redhail] (1978), the Court overturned a Wisconsin law that prohibited the remarriage of a noncustodial parent who had failed to pay court-ordered child support.

Birth control and contraception

Constitution, U.S.

Due process, substantive

Family and children

Gay and lesbian rights

Gender issues

Griswold v. Connecticut

Illegitimacy

Loving v. Virginia

Pierce v. Society of Sisters

Privacy, right to

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