Is Kirk Cameron Right on Marriage?

This week actor Kirk Cameron's comments on marriage have been the subject of much virtual discussion. His response is simple and significant. Expanding marriage is indeed “detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.” Read his pro-marriage remarks, and the response of others as reported by the Wall Street Journal. You can read more about his discussion at the Huffington Post, which lays out more of the back-and-forth that has occurred between GLAAD, fellow performers, as well as Kirk's response to his critics.

When marriage is redefined and expanded, it has many correlative effects. People do things in their relationships to stretch the understanding of marriage law, and the attempts to expand marriage are nothing new. In our Family Law course, students research their State's codes or rules on matters pertaining to domestic relationships to discern the law in that State, and the future trends in family law there as well. A quick look at the law in Alaska reveals the conundrum presented when lines between marriage and other relationships are blurred.

Marriage in Alaska is defined as between one man and one woman, and its nature is codified in that State's Defense of Marriage Act, and these laws protect the people and the property in the marriage. Some relationships function like marriage, but do not meet these standards. For example, Alaska does not currently have any statutes on unmarried cohabitation, however the controlling law for the division of property when dealing with unmarried cohabitants is Wood v. Collins 812 P.2d 951 at 956. The Court there held that "courts, when dealing with the property disputes of a man and a woman who have been living together in a nonmarital domestic relationship, should distribute property based upon the express or implied intent of those parties." In sum the courts in Alaska have decided to follow the California decision as set out in Marvin v. Marvin, equating cohabitation with marriage-like relationship in quantum meruit. This decision is concerning, however, because by allowing for the distribution of property for those who have been living together in a non-marital relationship laws are extending the rights granted through a marriage to those who have consciously decided not to get married, thereby diluting the states supposed state interest in protecting marriage and the institution itself. This further frustrates the couple's intent in their relationship, and the State's objective of protecting marriage and its time-tested definition.

When couples who believe in good faith that they are married they are protected under the putative spouse doctrine. Alaska Statute 25.05.051 Effect of Existing Former Marriage (considered the putative spouse doctrine in Alaska) sets out the rules concerning how a marriage is treated if one party is still married at the time the marriage occurred. It requires that one of the parties to the subsequent marriage believe in good faith that the former husband or wife is either dead or the former marriage was dissolved either through divorce or annulment. If so and the parties hold themselves out as married, curing the defect, they will in fact be deemed married.

Additionally if there is good faith not only at the time of the marriage but also throughout the marriage then the putative marriage doctrine applies and the innocent spouse is entitled to relief upon death or dissolution. Batey v. Batey 933 P.2d 551 at 553 states that the putative spouse doctrine has been codified in Alaska at AS 25.05.051.

Common law marriage, where parties are not married with the benefit of a ceremony but are deemed so in equity by a family court, is not recognized in most jurisdictions. Alaska Statute 25.05.011 Civil Contract (n. 3) states that common law marriages are not valid in Alaska. The court stated in Burgess Construction Co. v. Lindley 504 P.2d 1023 at 1024 that common law marriages in Alaska are not valid because in order to have a valid marriage the couple must obtain a license and the marriage must be solemnized.

All these rules are to protect couples with marriage, and to strengthen society with strong families. Marriage expansion does not mean equality. Rather, that activism is intended to alter normative standards of family foundations at the core. Kirk Cameron merely said it more simply.

(Thanks to Sandra Wilson and Robin Kunikis, current Family Law students, for the information contained in this post.)


  1. A sad note in this entire debate around Cameron's comment's is how GLAAD and other groups had destroyed the distinction Cameron made between person and conduct. Cameron originally made a distinction between homosexual conduct being wrong, but still showing Christian love to a homosexual. GLAAD and others have unfortunately merged the two concepts in order to bang the drum of homophobia.

    The problem is that the concepts are far from being mutually exclusive. The "love the sinner, hate the sin," as it is popularly known, is what allows things like intervention to take place. It allows people to help those with addictions and other problems while also not condoning the activity. GLAAD and the other groups are arguing to remove this distinction so that disapproval of conduct equates to disapproval of the person.

    Race and gender come to mind as things a person simply cannot change, thus acceptance of those things does hinge more on the person. Sexual preference does not hinge on the genetic foundation that race and gender do. The law has long drawn a line at things like polygamy, incest, rape, age, pedophilia, and bestiality. The ultimate question is why homosexuality should get to remove itself from that list.

  2. The danger associated with "allowing for the distribution of property for those who have been living together in a non-marital relationship" strikes me as slightly exaggerated. I say this because I draw a distinction between the rights and privileges afforded to the "marriage" (in it's fully functional and ongoing matrimonial status) and the rights and privileges afforded to the "dissolving marriage" (the terminally doomed or dead marriage). Based on this distinction, I designate the distribution of property (as contemplated by Marvin v. Marvin and its progeny) to the latter as opposed to the former. Thus, I disagree with the concept that the distribution of property is a unique right or privilege of "marriage"; rather, it is a unique right or privilege of the "dissolving marriage". I don't think we sully or otherwise compromise "marriage" when we allow the courts to use similar methods of asset distribution when terminating the relationship between non-married cohabitants. If we were to extend to unmarried cohabitants certain benefits, rights, or privileges traditionally reserved for "marriage", then yes, I think we would have a problem. However, the termination of the marriage (its process and dissolving status) renders the relationship between the parties non-uniuque to any other unmarried cohabitant (or increasingly so as of the initiation of the action). We don't give unmarried cohabitants a heightened or special quasi-marriage status when we say that the division of their assets is a process that shall be mirrored after the division of assets between married persons (who are, themselves, ending their marriage and thus terminating the special/unique status they have together against any and all other human relationships). I guess I just don't like the idea of attributing the distribution of property as a special right or privilege of married persons when the only real reason you will have (or be going through the process of) distribution of property is when you are ending the marriage. I mean, how can we claim that the distribution of property is a special thing that only married persons should enjoy when the whole point behind the distribution of property is contextually focused on the marriage's termination? Besides, the leveling application of quantum meruit seems like a good and equitable standard that should be applied whenever appropriate, regardless of the relationship shared.