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While conjugal-recognition policies are often a subject of political debate, scholarly attempts to explain such policies are relatively rare and typically focused on discrete policies—same-sex marriage, no-fault divorce, etc.—with comparatively little investigation of potential connections among policies. This article begins to develop a more holistic approach focused on explaining and understanding what I call conjugal-recognition regimes. Adapting the concept from the existing literature on welfare regimes, I argue that conjugal-recognition regimes exist when an identifiable pattern or principle organizes an institution’s conjugal-recognition policy and thereby shapes social relations at multiple levels, from the individuals in conjugal relationships to the multiple institutions (state, religious, and so on) that confer official conjugal recognition. I argue that these organizing patterns or principles emerge out of historically specific, institutionally situated, and discursively constructed political debates on specific conjugal issues and go on to shape subsequent conjugal-policy controversies. I demonstrate these ideas through an extended analysis of post-apartheid South African marriage law, which has recently incorporated numerous previously excluded conjugal formations but has also assigned each new form to its own statutory and administrative structure or, as I call it, “silo.” I argue that these silos entrench a principle of “gendered multiculturalism” that officially defines cultures in terms of their supposedly characteristic gender relations. This principle increasingly tends to favor religious and cultural elites’ understandings of their respective traditions.


This article has been accepted for publication in Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society, published by Oxford University Press. The final, published version is available at ijkey=srGRpkzogUziHnf&keytype=ref


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