A University of Iowa law professor has written about whether or not government should be involved in regulating marriage.
Ann Estin responded to those who argue for separating the two sides of marriage in the U.S. saying civil marriage is unnecessary because government can regulate family issues with existing contract and property laws.
Proponents of this approach call for granting civil unions to all couples and leaving marriage to religious faiths.
However, according to Estin, who is a family law expert and author of Unofficial Family Law, such ideas are attractive theoretically, but fail to recognize the deeply rooted importance of marriage in American culture and the complex interaction between civil and religious marriage.
"Concluding marriages with a single ceremony prevents the ambiguity and potential complications of different status in civil and religious law," she writes, adding, "In our society, as in many others, the definition of marriage . . . has been central to our self-definition as a community."
State regulation of marriage is also a subject in the debate over gay marriage rights.
Last week, the California Supreme Court upheld a ban on same-gender marriages based on the passage last November of Proposition 8 which sought to restrict the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples.
However, supporters of gay marriage, who called the decision a sad day for freedom and fairness, have vowed to continue what they see as a civil rights struggle.