Nancy Cott’s essay in the Boston Review on the history of American marriage.
The history of marriage laws tells a more complex story. The ability of married partners to procreate has never been required to make a marriage legal or valid, nor have unwillingness or inability to have children been grounds for divorce.
And marriage, as I have argued, has not been one unchanging institution over time. Features of marriage that once seemed essential and indispensable proved otherwise. The ending of coverture, the elimination of racial barriers to choice of partner, the expansion of grounds for divorce—though fiercely resisted by many when first introduced—have strengthened marriage rather than undermining it. The adaptability of marriage has preserved it.
I always wondered if people who are opposed to gay marriage think about this history. Do they say to themselves “yes, in the past, it was wrong for conservatives to prevent interracial couples from marrying, and immoral for conservatives to try to keep women in abusive marriages, and it was terrible that women had no property rights in marriage, etc… But this time… this time we conservatives have really hit on the perfect unchangeable form of marriage and history will prove us correct! Every other conservative was wrong on this issue, yes, but we’re right!”