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Marriage and the Moral Bases of Personal Relationships

John Eekelaar and Mavis MacLean
Journal of Law and Society
Vol. 31, No. 4 (Dec., 2004), pp. 510-538
Published by: Wiley on behalf of Cardiff University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1410653
Page Count: 29
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Marriage and the Moral Bases of Personal Relationships
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Abstract

Marriage is a legal institution. Current debates about whether it should be extended beyond its traditional heterosexual constitution, and whether many of its legal incidents should apply to couples who live together without marrying, and about the introduction of civil partnership (modelled closely on marriage) for same-sex couples, make an examination of its contemporary role particularly timely. This article is about the interplay between the institution of marriage and ideas of obligation within personal relationships. It takes as its starting point some commonly held opinions. First, that the sense of obligation which hitherto guided people's behaviour in their personal relationships has much diminished or even disappeared. Second, that this diminution is reflected in the decline in marriage. We will then examine what the evidence of an empirical study conducted by the Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy reveals about the way people in married and unmarried relationships understand the nature of their personal obligations. In doing this it will be seen that the moral bases which underpin people's personal relationships is complex and does not correspond in a simple way with formal, external social categories.

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