Gov. David Paterson of New York believes that same-sex marriage is a matter of individual liberty and recently introduced legislation to legalize it, comparing the effort to the abolition of slavery.

Andrew Cherlin, an expert on family sociology, has a different view.

In his persuasive new book, "The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today," Cherlin suggests that the momentum toward same-sex marriage has been fueled largely by a competing set of cultural ideals. In no other Western nation, he says, do people so equally and separately value both the marriage contract and individualism. And in no other Western nation does the government get involved in supporting both. These ideals, he says, are at odds; gay marriage is merely the latest and most heated expression of this.

These cultural contradictions have led to a cycle of churning in American households -- marriage, divorce, live-in partner, remarriage, repeat -- what Cherlin calls the "marriage-go-round."

Cherlin recommends policies that encourage stability, even if that means men and women remain single. We should slow down, he says, because marriage in and of itself doesn't necessarily lead to a better life for parents or children.