Marriage in the United States

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Marriage in the United States is the legal recognition of certain relationships - normally, monogamous pairings committing for life - that is regulated by individual States. It has important legal and economic and social aspects, and is generally seen as a prerequisite for having a family. While the traditional understanding of marriage has been a union between a man and woman, increasingly same-sex marriages are being recognized. After a period of dating and engagement, the marriage technically begins with a wedding, in which two persons become spouses, and the marriage endures until a spouse dies or until there is a divorce or legal separation. Marriage generally serves as a social marker to indicate a desire by two people to enjoy sexual exclusivity. It confirms particular rights and privileges, many of which are defined in law, such as receiving benefits and being able to bequeath property to descendants. In a marriage, males are referred to as husbands and females as wives.

Marriage laws have changed considerably during United States history, including the removal of bans on interracial marriage. In the twenty-first century laws have been passed enabling same-sex marriages in several states. In 2009, there were 2,077,000 marriages, according to the Census bureau.[1] Adults of any age can marry; the median age for the first marriage has increased in recent years;[2] for instance, the median age in the early 1970s was 21 for women and 23 for men, and it rose to 26 for women and 28 for men by 2009.[3]

Marriages vary considerably in terms of religion, socioeconomic status, age, commitment, and so forth.[4][5] Reasons for marrying may include a desire to have children, love, or economic security.[6] Marriage has been a means in some instances to acquire citizenship by getting a green card; the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986 established laws to punish such instances.[7] In 2003, 184,741 immigrants were admitted as spouses of United States citizens.[8]

If a marriage fails, a couple may go through a legal proceeding called a divorce. Divorce laws vary by state, and address issues such as how the two spouses divide their property, and how children will be cared for. In the last 50 years, divorce has become more prevalent, such that many marriages end in divorce; one estimate was that the probability that a given marriage would end in divorce five years later was 20%, according to one source.[9] In 2005, divorce rates were four times the divorce rates in 1955, and a quarter of children less than 16 years old are raised by a stepparent, according to one source.[9] Marriages that end in divorce last for a median of 8 years for both men and women.[10]

As a rough rule, marriage has more legal ramifications than other types of bonds between consenting adults. A civil union is "a formal union between two people of the same or of different genders which results in, but falls short of, marriage-like rights and obligations," according to one view.[11] A domestic partnership is a city-, county-, state-, or employer-recognized status that may be available to same-sex couples and, sometimes, heterosexual couples.[12] Cohabitation is when two unmarried people who are in an intimate relationship live together.[13]


Rarely in American history has love been seen as the main reason for getting married.[14] In the early 18th century individuals often said they looked for "candor" in each other, meaning fairness, kindliness, and good temper.[14] "People wanted a spouse who did not pry too deeply. The ideal mate, wrote U.S. President John Adams in his diary, was willing to 'palliate faults and mistakes, to put the best construction upon words and actions, and to forgive injuries.'"[15]

Since the founding of the country, marriage between whites and persons of color was seen as immoral and unnatural. In 1948, the California Supreme Court became the first state high court to declare a ban on interracial marriage unconstitutional. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down remaining interracial marriage laws nation wide, in the case Loving v. Virginia.[16]

In the United States there have been three basic marriage models: The historic Judaic-Christian marriage model, the Romantic marriage model, and the Rationalistic marriage model. The historic Judaic-Christian model has roots deep within Jewish tradition. This model views marriage as a very special gift from God that should be used for man's benefit. By taking care of his spouse and living life the way God intended for man to live, man therefore serves God. According to this model, a man and woman experience a very special bond through marriage. Though not commonly referred to as a sacrament by American Protestants, Roman Catholics commonly refer to marriage as a sacrament. The Judaic-Christian model believes that the institution of marriage is a creation of God and that the couple is joined together by God. The purpose and function of marriage in this model is to have companionship, to love each other, and to help one another with the daily struggles of everyday life. The second purpose is to have children and be an outlet for sexual expression.[17]

The first new marriage models to emerge in the United States was the "romantic". The romantic model copied emerging themes, and had an enormous impact on the United States. Because it was not originally associated with marriage, it was not known when exactly romantic love became a part of a marriage model. Troubadours, poets, and writers of popular love songs magnified its attention. In the romantic model, marriage is optional and may therefore be impermanent. This has had a large impact on the emergence of the newest marriage model, the "rationalistic".[18]

In the romantic marriage model, two individuals find themselves drawn together by love. One problem with the romantic marriage model is the perceived social irresponsibility. Assuring stability in the family has now become a main focus, leading to the rationalistic marriage model. In this model, two people are drawn together by both love and common traits. With this marriage model, mates are carefully chosen based on personal and social traits of the two individuals. Not only is the rationalistic model based on fidelity, but one of the main goals is the pure happiness of the people involved.[19]

In 1940, the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study about premarital sex life. Male students who participated had great difficulty in facing marriage with a girl who had had sexual relations.[20]


Since 1970, societal changes have occurred affecting families. For instance, the percentage of single mothers with children has risen about 30%. Employment of mothers with young children (6 and under) has also risen about 30%.[21]

Marital status by age group in 2004[edit]

Marital status of residents of the United States of America in 2004

In 2004 the U.S. Census Bureau measured the marital status of U.S. residents, showing several trends.[22][23] While about 96% of residents in their 70s and 80s were married at least once, many were widowed due to the death of their spouses. In addition, a large portion of middle-aged Americans are either divorced, legally separated, or informally separated. Of those who were "separated or divorced," approximately 74% were legally divorced, 15% were "separated," and 11% were listed as having an "absent spouse."

Marital status in the U.S. in the year 2000[edit]

The four maps on the right shows the trend of married, widowed, separated, and divorced households in the United States in the year 2000. The map on the bottom left shows that the west coast had the highest percentages of households to go through divorce. According to the map bottom right of the census chart the south east coast and New Orleans had the highest percentage of separated houses in the U.S. The northeast had the highest percentages of marriages. The highest percentages of widowed households was in the Midwest.[citation needed]

Trends and census data of 2006-2010[edit]

As of 2006, 55.7% of Americans age 18 and over were married.[24] According to the 2008-2010 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates, males over the age of 15 have married 51.5%. Females over the age of 15 have married 47.7%. The separation rate is 1.8% for males and 0.1% for females.[2]

African Americans have married the least of all of the predominant ethnic groups in the U.S. with a 29.9% marriage rate, but have the highest separation rate which is 4.5%. This results in a high rate of single mother households among African Americans compared with other ethnic groups (White, African American, Native Americans, Asian, Hispanic).[2] This can lead a child to become closer to their mother, the only caregiver. Yet with only one parent furnishing resources, economic stress can result.[25] Native Americans have the second lowest marriage rate with 37.9%. Hispanics have a 45.1% marriage rate, with a 3.5% separation rate.[2]

In the United States, the two ethnic groups with the highest marriage rates included Asians with 58.5% and Whites with 52.9%. Asians have the lowest rate of divorce among the main groups with 1.8%. Whites, African Americans, and Native Americans have the highest rates of being widowed ranging from 5%-6.5%. They also have the highest rates of divorce among the three, ranging from 11%-13% with Native Americans having the highest divorce rate.[2]

In 2009, 2,077,000 marriages occurred in the United States.[1] The median age for Americans' first marriage has risen in recent years,[2] with the median age at first marriage in the early 1970s being 21 for women and 23 for men, and in 2009, it had risen to 26 for women and 28 for men.[3][26]

According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, the average family income is higher than previous years at $62,770.[27] The percentage of family households below the poverty line in 2011 was 15.1%, higher than in 2000 when it was 11.3%.[28] According to a report in 2013, the percentage of heterosexual couples who marry has fallen dramatically, but couples who marry are more likely to have college degrees and higher income than those who do not marry.[29] Some sociologists suggest that marriage in twenty-first century America has become a luxury good.[29]

Projection of family composition to 2030[edit]

In 2008 a report was taken out by major research foundations including The Young Foundation (UK),The Bertelsmann Foundation (DE), The European Center for Social Welfare Policy and Research (EU), and other foundations around the world. These foundations combined their own research to show what to expect families to look like in the next twenty years or so.[30] These factors included:

21st century fertility rates[edit]

In industrialized countries, such as the United States, fertility rates have been lower than non-industrialized countries. Women have had children later in life, which has resulted in fewer births per woman. With a higher percentage of women in the work force, more women have diverted their attention away from establishing a family.[30] This has led to speculation that, in the next 20 years, the native U.S. population is not going to increase as fast as it did in the 20th century. Despite increased longevity, the number of members per family is not projected to increase.[30]


As of 2006, roughly 12%-14% of the U.S. population was foreign born. This is attributed to immigration from nearby countries and around the world.[30]

Future marriages and families in the United States[edit]

With increased longevity, more great grandparents and great grandchildren are anticipated. For the married couple this can either mean more sources of sibling, kin, and parental support or more stress from having to take care of more elderly and young family members—yet there will be fewer siblings within the family. Due to a constant flow of immigration, both legal and illegal, marriages can be projected to be more interracial and culturally diverse, which would lead to the majority white culture becoming the largest minority, leaving behind a more diverse population than currently present in the United States.[30]

Sociology of marriage[edit]

Types of marriage[edit]

In the U.S., there are various types of marriage, including monogamy, serial monogamy, and polygamy[citation needed] (including polyandry)[citation needed]. Monogamy is when one person marries one other person, and is the most common and acceptable form of marriage.[5] Serial monogamy is when individuals are permitted to marry again, often on the death of the first spouse or after divorce; they cannot have more than one spouse at one time.[5][31] Polygamy is a form of marriage in which someone marries multiple people at a given time.[5] Part of the function of looking at marriage from a sociological perspective is to give insight into the reason behind various marital arrangements. Polygamy is illegal throughout the U.S.[32]

Reasons for marriage[edit]

There are several reasons that Americans marry. The desire to have children is one; having a family is a high priority among many Americans.[6] People also desire love, companionship, commitment, continuity, and permanence.[6] There are some reasons for marriage that are ephemeral. These reasons include social legitimacy, social pressure, the desire for a high social status, economic security, rebellion or revenge, or validation of an unplanned pregnancy.[6]

Wedding ceremonies[edit]

Most wedding traditions were assimilated from other, generally European, countries.[33] Marriages in the U.S. are typically arranged by the participants and ceremonies may either be religious or civil. There was a tradition that the prospective bridegroom ask his future father-in-law for his blessing. This tradition is rarely observed today.[33] When it is the first wedding for the bride, a typical U.S. traditional wedding tends to be more elaborate. It is also tradition that the bride's maid of honor plans a wedding shower prior to the wedding, where the bride-elect receives gifts from family and friends.[33]

More traditional U.S. weddings take place in a religious setting. The bride and groom invite all their family and friends. There may be bridesmaids and groomsmen, who include the maid of honor and best man.[33] Depending on the religion of the bride and groom, a religious leader (a priest, rabbi..etc.) conducts the ceremony. During the ceremony, the bride and groom vow their love and commitment for one another with either written vows they have prepared themselves, or with the traditional vows that the church gives them.[33] Towards the end of the wedding ceremony it is often tradition for the religious leader to ask the congregation if they know of any reason why the man and woman should not be married.[33] If no one objects, the couple then exchanges rings, which symbolizes their never-ending love and commitment towards one another.[33] Finally, for the first time in public, the couple is pronounced husband and wife. It is then that they share their first kiss as a married couple and thus seal their union.[33] For some weddings, as the couple begins to leave the church, family and friends throw rice or wheat their way, which symbolizes fertility.[33] The average cost of a wedding in 2011 was $25,630.[34]

After the actual wedding ceremony itself, there may be a wedding reception.[33] During this reception it is tradition that the best man and the maid of honor proposes a toast.[33] The couple may receive gifts.[33] These gifts help the new couple to start their lives together. Lasting several days or weeks, the couple then usually goes on a honeymoon to celebrate their marriage.[33]


Marriage laws are established by individual states.[35] There are two methods of receiving state recognition of a marriage: common law marriage and obtaining a marriage license.[36] Common-law marriage is no longer permitted in most states.[35] Though federal law does not regulate state marriage law, it does provide for rights and responsibilities of married couples that differ from those of unmarried couples. Reports published by the General Accounting Office in 1997 and 2004 identified over 1000 such laws.[37]

Marriage as a fundamental right[edit]

The United States Supreme Court has in at least 14 cases since 1888 ruled that marriage is a fundamental right. These cases are:[38]

  1. Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190 (1888) Marriage is "the most important relation in life" and "the foundation of the family and society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress."
  2. Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923) The right "to marry, establish a home and bring up children" is a central part of liberty protected by the Due Process Clause.
  3. Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson, 316 U.S. 535 (1942) Marriage is "one of the basic civil rights of man" and "fundamental to the very existence and survival of the race."
  4. Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965) "We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights—older than our political parties, older than our school system. Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions."
  5. Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967) "The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men."
  6. Boddie v. Connecticut, 401 U.S. 371 (1971) "[M]arriage involves interests of basic importance to our society" and is "a fundamental human relationship."
  7. Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, 414 U.S. 632 (1974) "This Court has long recognized that freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."
  8. Moore v. City of East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494 (1977) "[W]hen the government intrudes on choices concerning family living arrangements, this Court must examine carefully the importance of the governmental interests advanced and the extent to which they are served by the challenged regulation."
  9. Carey v. Population Services International, 431 U.S. 678 (1977) "[I]t is clear that among the decisions that an individual may make without unjustified government interference are personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, and child rearing and education."
  10. Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374 (1978) "[T]he right to marry is of fundamental importance for all individuals."
  11. Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987) "[T]he decision to marry is a fundamental right" and an "expression[ ] of emotional support and public commitment."
  12. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992) "These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."
  13. M.L.B. v. S.L.J., 519 U.S. 102 (1996) "Choices about marriage, family life, and the upbringing of children are among associational rights this Court has ranked as 'of basic importance in our society,' rights sheltered by the Fourteenth Amendment against the State's unwarranted usurpation, disregard, or disrespect."
  14. Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) "[O]ur laws and tradition afford constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, and education. ... Persons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy for these purposes, just as heterosexual persons do."

Restrictions/Expansions of marriage[edit]

In 2003 was the debate over whether to allow same-sex access to the institution of civil marriage became a major political issue, due to these important court decisions:[39]

  1. "June 26, 2003: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that anti-gay sodomy laws violate the U.S. Constitution's right to privacy."[40]
  2. "November 18, 2003: The Massachusetts's Supreme Judicial Court rules that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the state's constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process."[41]

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in 19 states: Massachusetts since May 17, 2004, Connecticut since November 12, 2008, Iowa since April 24, 2009, Vermont since September 1, 2009, New Hampshire since January 1, 2010, New York since July 24, 2011, Washington since December 9, 2012, Maine since December 29, 2012, Maryland since January 1, 2013, and New Jersey since October 21, 2013, in Hawaii since December 2, 2013, New Mexico since December 19, 2013, Oregon since May 19, 2014, Pennsylvania since May 20, 2014, Illinois since June 1, 2014, as well as in the District of Columbia since March 3, 2010 and Eight Native American tribes. Utah briefly performed same-sex marriages from December 20, 2013 to January 6, 2014. Michigan performed same-sex marriages on March 22, 2014. Same-sex marriages were also briefly performed in Arkansas and Wisconsin. Laws vary because marriage laws are the purview of individual states. The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act prohibited the federal government from recognizing these marriages until its third section was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26, 2013 in United States v. Windsor. The social movement to obtain the right of same-sex couples to marry began in the early 1970s, and the issue became prominent in U.S. politics in the 1990s. Massachusetts has recognized same-sex marriage since 2004. Nine states and the District of Columbia offer same-sex legal unions that offer some or all of the rights and responsibilities of marriage, but these rights are not automatic with civil union as a result of a federal statute.[42] In contrast, twenty-six states have constitutional amendments explicitly barring the recognition of same-sex marriage. Forty-three states have statutes restricting marriage to two persons of the opposite sex, including some of those that have created legal recognition for same-sex unions under a name other than "marriage." A small number of states ban any legal recognition of same-sex unions that would be equivalent to civil marriage.[42]

State anti-miscegenation laws banning interracial marriage date as far back as the 1660s. These laws were gradually repealed between 1948 and 1967. The U.S. Supreme Court declared all such laws unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia in 1967.[43]

Polygamy is "a condition or practice or culture of having more than one spouse". The United States is seen as a monogamous nation (a nation where polygamy is a criminal offense). An estimated 100,000 people practice polygamy secretly and illegally. A large number of these people are fundamentalist Mormons.[44] Polygamy was banned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest Latter Day Saint denomination, in 1890.

Although marriage between first cousins is illegal in most states, it is legal in some states, the District of Columbia and some territories. Some states have some restrictions or exceptions for first cousin marriages and/or recognize such marriages performed out-of-state.

Same-sex marriage[edit]

State laws regarding same-sex marriage in the United States1
  Same-sex marriage legal
  Same-sex marriage ban overturned, decision stayed indefinitely
  Same-sex marriage banned where federal circuit court has found similar bans unconstitutional
  Same-sex marriage banned
  Same-sex marriage legality complicated2,3

1 Native American tribal jurisdictions have laws pertaining to same-sex marriage independent of state law. The federal government recognizes same-sex marriages, regardless of the current state of residence.
2 Many jurisdictions in Kansas issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but same-sex marriage is not recognized by the state government.
3 Same-sex marriage licenses are issued by three jurisdictions within Missouri. Legal same-sex marriages are recognized by the state government. The state's same-sex marriage ban has been overturned, but the decision is stayed indefinitely.


In the United States, activist Jack Baker and Michael McConnell applied for a marriage license in Minnesota in 1970. This was denied, because they were the same sex. There were no state laws or precedents regarding same-sex marriages. They argued that denying a license on that basis in Minnesota was unconstitutional, but the trial and appeals courts ruled against them. Other same-sex couples in the 1970s tried to obtain marriage licenses, but most were unable to get them for the same reason as Baker and McConnell.[45]

When the HIV/AIDS epidemic occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, much of the focus in the gay community shifted to addressing and fighting the disease, and little priority was given to other aspects of gay life, such as promoting same-sex marriage and gay rights. By 1985, people were more informed about AIDS/HIV and realized that the disease was not confined to the gay community. Some still argued it was a reason to oppose same-sex marriages.[45][46] The epidemic actually helped the image of gay men by giving them some positive attention. More gay people revealed their sexual identities. Discrimination diminished, leading to more open pursuit of marriage by the mid-1990s. Revising marriage laws to include same-sex did not seem achievable at that time, so gays focused on laws permitting the more acceptable domestic partnerships.[46]

Same-sex marriages[edit]

Some marriages involve same-sex couples rather than opposite-sex couples. A same-sex marriage is a marriage between two people who identify as the same gender or sex. Views on same-sex marriages in the U.S. have begun to substantially change only in the past few decades. The majority of people used to define marriage as specifically between a man and a woman, but society has become more tolerant of same-sex couples. People who have supported same-sex marriage have stated that a person's sexual orientation should have nothing to do with whether or not they get certain rights. They have argued that letting same-sex couples marry will make the individuals healthier overall. Those who have opposed same-sex marriage have said that it threatens religion and ruins the traditional view of marriage that, for the most part, worldwide society has historically embraced.[21]

Thirty-one states have passed constitutional amendments restricting marriage to being between one man and one woman.[citation needed] Same-sex marriage bans have been overturned in several states. The one in Hawaii was ruled only to give the Legislature the right to prohibit same-sex marriage, not to require that they do so.[47] The latter ruling cleared the way for the law providing for same-sex marriage that the Hawaiian legislature had passed and the governor had signed in the preceding two weeks. Voters in Arizona (2006) and Minnesota (2012) voted on such amendments but rejected them.[citation needed] Meanwhile, same-sex marriage is currently legal in 32 states and legally recognized by the federal government and Missouri.

Religion and same-sex marriage[edit]

Religions in the U.S. have many different opinions of what sorts of same-sex activity and rights should be allowed. Certain religions do not perform same-sex marriages for the sake of separating them from religious affairs, but tolerate civil same-sex marriage ceremonies. Others refrain from performing them because they believe in the separation of church and state. Congregations within the same denomination may even differ in the behaviors each supports.[46] Religions that have a strong stance against practicing homosexualtiy are Orthodox Judaism, Mormonism, Catholicism, Islam, and conservative Christian denominations.

Other religions seem to be indifferent to the practice of homosexuality, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, and don't support or reject it. Some religions support same-sex marriage and the practice of homosexuality, such as Reform Judaism.[46]

Green card marriages[edit]

Main article: Green card marriage

A green card is the way immigrants from other countries become a permanent resident of the United States. According to the United States Census Bureau "Every year over 450,000 United States citizens marry foreign-born individuals and petition for them to obtain a permanent residency (Green Card) in the United States."[48] In 2003, 184,741 immigrants were admitted to the U.S. as spouses of U.S. citizens.[8]

The applicant must already be married. There are conditional requirements in order to obtain a green card through the marriage process. The prospect must have a conditional green card. This becomes permanent after approval by the government. The candidate may then apply for United States citizenship.[49]

A conditional residence green card is given to applicants who are being processed for permanent residence in the United States because they are married to a U.S. citizen. It is valid for two years. At the end of this time period if the card holder does not change the status of their residency they will be put on "out of status". Legal action by the government may follow.[50]

Because there are different procedures based on whether the applicant is already a U.S. citizen or if the applicant is an immigrant. The marriage must also be legal in, if appropriate, the emigrant's country.[49]

Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986[edit]

A public law was passed to deter marriage fraud among immigrants. The major stipulation is that if the immigrant is married for less than two years they are classified as conditional immigrants. The two-year period is not from the time they get married, but from the time that residency is granted. In order to remove this classification the immigrants must apply for Removal of conditions on the residency ninety days before the second-year anniversary of still being considered conditional.[7]

There are several reasons why the conditional immigration status can be terminated. Those include divorce, marriage is not valid, or the couple failed to petition the Immigration Service to remove the classification of conditional residency. If the Immigration suspects that an alien has created a fraudulent marriage the immigrant are subject to removal from the United States. The marriage must be fraudulent at its inception and can be determined by several factors. The several factors are the conduct of parties before and after the marriage is relevant, and the bride and groom's intention of establishing a life together. The validity must be given by the couple by showing insurance policies, property, leases, income tax, bank accounts, etc. The final decision is determined by if the sole purpose of the marriage was to gain benefits for the immigrant. The punishment for fraud is a large monetary penalty, possibility of never becoming a permanent resident of the United States, and jail time for the spouse. These Amendment Acts cover spouses, children of spouses, and K-1 visa fiancés.[7]

Basic immigration law[edit]

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 has been amended many times, but still remains the basic and central body of immigration law.[51]

Intersection of immigration law and family law[edit]

Immigrants who use the reason of family ties to gain entry into the United States are required to document financial arrangements. The sponsor of a related immigrant must guarantee financial support to the family.[52] These guarantees form a contract between a sponsor and the federal government. It requires the sponsor to support the immigrant relative at a level equivalent to 125% of the poverty line for his or her household size. A beneficiary of the contract, the immigrant, or the Federal Government may sue for the promised support in the event the sponsor does not fulfill the obligations of the contract. The sponsor is also liable for the prevailing party's legal expenses.[53]

Divorce does not end the sponsor's obligation to provide the support deemed by the contract. The only ways to terminate the obligation are the immigrant spouse becomes a U.S. citizen, the immigrant spouse has worked forty Social Security Act eligible quarters (10 years), the immigrant spouse is no longer considered a permanent alien and has left the U.S., the immigrant spouse obtained an ability to adjust their status, or the immigrant spouse dies. A sponsor's death also cuts off the obligation, but not in regards to any support the sponsor already owes which will be paid but the sponsor's estate.[53]

Mail-order bride and immigration fraud[edit]

A mail-order bride is a foreign woman who contacts American men and immigrates for the purpose of marriage.

Initially, it was conducted through mailed catalogs, but now, more often, on the internet. Prospective brides are typically from developing nations such as South/Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Taiwan, Macao, South Korea, Hong Kong, and China. Brides from Eastern European countries have been in demand.[54] The mail-order bride phenomenon can be traced as far back as the 1700s and 1800s.[55] This was due to the immigration of European colonizers who were in far away areas and wanted brides from their homeland.[55]

First world governments have speculated that another reason for foreign women, marrying men in their country, is to provide an easy immigration route by staying married for a period of time sufficient to secure permanent citizenship, and then divorce their husbands. Whether the brides choose to remain married or not, they could still sponsor the rest of their families to immigrate. Precautions have been taken by several countries such as the United States, Great Britain, and Australia. They have fought the proliferation of the mail-order bride industry through amending immigration laws. The United States addressed the mail-order bride system by passing the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendment of 1986.[56] Great Britain and Australia have experienced similar problems and are trying to deal with the issue.[54]

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender immigrants[edit]

In 2000, 36,000 same-sex bi-national couples were living in the United States. A majority of these couples were raising young children.[57] Females constitute 58% of bi-national families; 33% are male bi-national.[57]


The revision of American immigration law imposed a ban on homosexual people began in 1952.[57] The language barred "aliens afflicted with psychopathic personality, epilepsy or mental defect."[57] Congress explicitly intended this language to cover "homosexuals and sex perverts." The law was amended in 1965 to more specifically prohibit the entry of persons "afflicted with... sexual deviation."[57] Until 1990, "sexual deviation" was grounds for exclusion from the United States, and anyone who admitted being a homosexual was refused entry.[57] Lesbian and gay individuals are now admitted and US citizens may petition for immigrant visas for their same-sex spouses under the same terms as opposite-sex spouses.[58]

Boutilier v. Immigration Service, 1967[edit]

In 1967, the Supreme Court confirmed that, when describing a homosexual person, they were to be referred to as a "psychopathic personality."[57] Twenty-one-year-old Clive Boutilier, a Canadian, had moved to the United States in 1955 to join his mother, stepfather, and 3 siblings who already lived there.[57] In 1963, he applied for US citizenship, admitting that he had been arrested on a sodomy charge in 1959.[57] He was ordered to be deported. He challenged his deportation until it became a federal matter and became a case for the Supreme Court. In a six-three decision, the court ruled that Congress had decided to bar gay people from entering the United States:[57] "Congress was not laying down a clinical test, but an exclusionary standard which it declared to be inclusive of those having homosexual and perverted characteristics..." Congress used the phrase 'psychopathic personality' not in the clinical sense, but to effectuate its purpose to exclude from entry all homosexuals and other sex perverts."[57] Boutilier was torn from his partner of eight years. According to one historian, "Presumably distraught about the Court's Decision... Boutillier attempted suicide before leaving New York, survived a month-long coma that left him brain-damaged with permanent disabilities, and moved to southern Ontario with his parents, who took on the task of caring for him for more than twenty years."[57] He died in Canada on April 12, 2003, only weeks before that country moved to legalize same-sex marriage.[57] Even with the ban being enforced homosexual people still managed to come to the United States for several reasons, but especially to be with the people they loved.[57] The fight to allow homosexual immigrants into the United States continued in the mid-1970 with an Australian national named Anthony Sullivan.[57] He was living in Boulder, Colorado, with his American partner, Richard Adams.[57] When Sullivan's visitor's visa was about to expire, they managed to persuade the county clerk to issue them a marriage license, with which Sullivan applied for a green card as Adams' spouse.[57] They received a negative reply from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Sullivan and Adams sued, and in 1980, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that because Congress intended to restrict the term "spouse" to opposite-sex couples, and because Congress has extensive power to limit access to immigration benefits, the denial was lawful.[57] The ban was finally repealed in 1990, but without making any provision for gays and lesbians to be treated equally with regard to family-based immigration sponsorship.[57] Sponsorship [59] became possible only after the 2013 US Supreme Court decision in US v Windsor [60] that struck down a provision to the contrary in the Defense of Marriage Act.

Family reunification[edit]

Two-thirds of legal immigrants to the United States arrive on family-based petitions, sponsored by a fiancé, spouse, parent, adult child, or sibling. "Family reunification" lies at the heart of the U.S. immigrations system. However, separating same-sex couples is a principle Congress favors. In 1996, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbids recognizing same-sex partners as spouses or family members for any federal purpose, including immigration. Despite the gains that same-sex couples have made on the local level in some states, same-sex couples are not eligible for immigration benefits. Immigration recognition is completely controlled by the federal government, which recognizes as valid same-sex marriages that were valid in the jurisdiction where they were contracted, whether in the US or abroad.[61]


Marriage and divorce rates in the US 1990-2007

Divorce is the province of state governments, so divorce law varies from state to state. Prior to the 1970s, divorcing spouses had to prove that the other spouse was at fault, for instance for being guilty of adultery, abandonment, or cruelty; when spouses simply could not get along, lawyers were forced to manufacture "uncontested" divorces. The implementation of no-fault divorce began in 1969 in California and ended with New York. No-fault divorce (on the grounds of "irreconcilable differences", "irretrievable breakdown of marriage", "incompatibility", or after a separation period etc.) is now available in all states. State law provides for child support where children are involved, and sometimes for alimony.[62]

About a million U.S. children per year are newly faced with parental divorce, down from a peak well in excess of a million circa 1980.[63] According to The Heritage Foundation, "children whose parents have divorced are increasingly the victims of emotional and sexual abuse. They exhibit more health, behavioral, and emotional problems, are involved more frequently in and drug abuse, and have higher rates of suicide."[64]

Relevant types of unions[edit]

Domestic partnerships[edit]

In the United States of America, domestic partnership is a city-, county-, state-, or employer-recognized status that may be available to same-sex couples and, sometimes, heterosexual couples.[12] Although similar to marriage, a domestic partnership does not confer any of the 1,138 rights afforded to married couples by the federal government, but the state government may confer some of its rights.[12] Because domestic partnerships in the United States are determined by each state or local jurisdiction, there is no nationwide consistency on the rights, responsibilities, and benefits accorded domestic partners.[12] Some couples enter into a private, informal, documented domestic partnership agreement, specifying their mutual obligations because the obligations are otherwise merely implied, and written contracts are much more valid in legal circumstances.[12]


Cohabitation occurs when two unmarried people who are in an intimate relationship live together.[13] Some couples cohabit as a way to experience married life before they are actually married. Some cohabit instead of marrying. Other couples may live together because other living arrangements are less desired. In the past few decades, societal standards that discouraged cohabitation have faded and cohabiting is now considered more acceptable.[65]

Children of cohabiting, instead of married, parents may have less stability in their lives. In 2011, The National Marriage Project reported that about 23 of children with cohabiting parents saw them break up before they were 12 years old. About 14 of children of married couples had experienced this by age 12.[66]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ a b c d e f United States Census Bureau PDF 2010 Template:United States Census Bureau
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  4. ^ Nielsen, Arthur; William Pinsof (October 2004). "Marriage 101: An Integrated Academic and Experiential Undergraduate Marriage Education Course". Family Relations 53 (5): 485–494. doi:10.1111/j.0197-6664.2004.00057.x. Retrieved September 26, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c d Jeanne H. Ballantine; Keith A. Roberts (2009). Our Social World: Condensed Version. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press. p. 271. ISBN 978-1-4129-6659-7. Retrieved November 18, 2011. 
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  7. ^ a b c "Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986". Retrieved November 11, 2011. , Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986.
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  14. ^ a b Coontz, Stephanie (2005). Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage. New York: Viking. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-14-303667-8. 
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    The Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments Act of 1986 amended § 1325 by adding § 1325(c), which provides a penalty of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for any "individual who knowingly enters into a marriage for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws."

  57. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Chang-Muy, Fernando (2009). Social Work with Immigrants and Refugees. Springer Publishing Company, LLC. Retrieved August 12, 2011. .
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Further reading[edit]

  • Schudlich, T., E. Mark, C., & Lauren, P. (2011). Relations between spouses' depressive symptoms and marital conflict: A longitudinal investigation of the role of conflict resolution styles. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(4), 531-540.
  • Helms, H., Walls, J., Crouter, A., & Susan, M. (2010). Provider role attitudes, marital satisfaction, role overload, and housework: A dyadic approach. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(5), 568-577.
  • Hernandez, K., Mahoney, A., & Pargament, K. (2011). Sanctification of sexuality: Implications for newlyweds' marital and sexual quality. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(5), 775-780.
  • Meltzer, A., McNulty, J., Novak, S., Butler, E., & Karney, B. (2011). Marriages are more satisfying when wives are thinner than their husbands. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2, 416-424.
  • Gordon, C., Arnetter, R., & Smith, R. (2011). Have you thanked your spouse today?: Felt and expressed gratitude among married couples. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(3), 339-343.
  • Dew, J., & Wilcox, B. (2011). If momma aint happy, no one is. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73(1), 1-12.
  • Dethier, M., Counerotte, C., & Blairy, S. (2011). Marital satisfaction in couples with an alcoholic husband. Journal of Family Violence, 26(2), 151-162.
  • Medina, A., Lederhos, C., & Lillis, T. (2009). Sleep disruption and decline in marital satisfaction across the transition to parenthood. Families, Systems, & Health, 27(2), 153-160.
  • Rust, J., & Goldstein, J. (1989). Humor in marital adjustment. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 2(3), 217-223.
  • Glorieux, I., Minnen, J., & Tienoven, T. P. (2011). Spouse "together time": Quality time within the household. Social Indicators Research, 101(2), 281-287.

External links[edit]