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Legally Married

Love and Law in the UK and the US

Scot Peterson, Iain McLean

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What does it really mean to be legally married?

What marriage is is not easy question to answer, considering the variety of cultures, religions and laws of different countries. From English teenagers eloping to Gretna Green to tie the knot without their parents’ permission, to whether a wife can own property, it’s clear that marriage law is different depending on where you live and when. Now, the main debate centres on whether the law should be changed so that same-sex couples can marry.

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Introduction: Changing Attitudes
1. Different Theories of Marriage
2. Marriage from the Reformation to the Rules of the Fleet
3. From Lord Hardwicke’s Act to Civil Marriage and Divorce
4. Marriage Across the Seas: Ireland, South Africa, Canada and the United States
5. Current Policy Questions: Fighting Fair about Same-sex Marriage
6. Unfolding Developments

About the Author

Scot Peterson is the Bingham Research Fellow in Constitutional Studies at Balliol and in the Department of Politics and International Relations, Oxford University. A former attorney, he practiced law in the United States before coming to Oxford, where he earned a doctorate in politics in 2009. He teaches British politics, comparative government and US politics at Oxford, where he specializes in constitutional theory and history. He has written extensively on church-state relations in the US and the UK.

Iain McLean is Official Fellow in Politics, Nuffield College, Oxford, and Professor of Politics, University of Oxford. He is the author of more than 100 papers and 15 books. Iain was born in Edinburgh and educated at the Royal High School and Oxford University. He has worked in Newcastle, (where he was also a county councillor), Warwick, and Oxford and held various visiting professorships overseas. He has been studying devolution and Scottish independence since his postgraduate dissertation on the SNP. He is a Fellow of both the British Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Unlike the other little boys who watched the trains go under Blackford Road bridge, he became an engine-driver (on a narrow-gauge steam railway in Wales). He has co-authored two policy explainer books for Edinburgh University Press: Scotland's Choices: The Referendum and What Happens Afterwards and Legally Married: Love and Law in the UK and the US.


Legally Married is … as useful to specialists in law as to Christians trying to make sense of the issue … Peterson and McLean offer bracing realism rather than wishful thinking as a basis for thinking through contemporary issues [It deserves] a wide readership both inside and outside the Churches.

- Bernice Martin, Emeritus Reader in Sociology, University of London, Church Times

I have watched the development of this book with pleasure and gratitude. It brings to the often confused discussion of marriage and associated cultural issues a clearsightedness and well-informed scholarship which will benefit a wide audience. It satisfyingly exposes the glorious variety of marriage throughout history, in the midst of an era in which that variety is becoming still more glorious.

- Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church, University of Oxford

In the heat of debate over marriage today, many protagonists make confident simple assertions about something that is truly hard to define. Here Peterson and McLean combine clear and often wry explanation of these issues with their unsurpassed authority on the relationship (perhaps more one of cohabitation than marriage) between Church and State. Implicitly they make the strongest argument for the current debates to be a great deal more sophisticated and nuanced than sometimes they are.

- Marjory A. MacLean, former Depute Clerk of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

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