Kerry Abrams

Citizen Spouse

In this essay, I offer an alternative view of marriage as citizenship. The notion may be romantic, but when enshrined in law, it also has important distributional consequences that, I argue, should be of concern. Until quite recently, a woman’s citizenship was determined not just metaphorically but legally by her marriage. At the level of state citizenship, a married woman’s citizenship followed her husband’s under rule of “derivative domicile”; at the national level, her citizenship could be bestowed or taken away depending on the citizenship status of her husband. In this essay, I examine the history of the derivative domicile and national citizenship rules to explore the ways in which marriage can-and does-function as citizenship and to offer a critique of the ways in which citizenship talk still infuses our understanding of marriage today. Marriage, I argue, can be understood as an identity-producing legal status, akin to state or national citizenship, and the ways in which this understanding of marriage can lead to its dwarfing or trumping other identity statuses.