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Queering Marriage

Queering Marriage: Challenging Family Formation in the United States

Katrina Kimport
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Queering Marriage
    Book Description:

    Over four thousand gay and lesbian couples married in the city of San Francisco in 2004. The first large-scale occurrence of legal same-sex marriage, these unions galvanized a movement and reignited the debate about whether same-sex marriage, as some hope, challenges heterosexual privilege or, as others fear, preserves that privilege by assimilating queer couples.

    InQueering Marriage, Katrina Kimport uses in-depth interviews with participants in the San Francisco weddings to argue that same-sex marriage cannot be understood as simply entrenching or contesting heterosexual privilege. Instead, she contends, these new legally sanctioned relationships can both reinforce as well as disrupt the association of marriage and heterosexuality.

    During her deeply personal conversations with same-sex spouses, Kimport learned that the majority of respondents did characterize their marriages as an opportunity to contest heterosexual privilege. Yet, in a seeming contradiction, nearly as many also cited their desire for access to the normative benefits of matrimony, including social recognition and legal rights. Kimport's research revealed that the pattern of ascribing meaning to marriage varied by parenthood status and, in turn, by gender. Lesbian parents were more likely to embrace normative meanings for their unions; those who are not parents were more likely to define their relationships as attempts to contest dominant understandings of marriage.

    By posing the question-can queers "queer" marriage?-Kimport provides a nuanced, accessible, and theoretically grounded framework for understanding the powerful effect of heterosexual expectations on both sexual and social categories.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6223-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-19)

    Gavin Newsom was sworn in as the mayor of San Francisco in January 2004. It had not been an easy climb to the top. Mayor Newsom entered office following a highly contested political campaign during which he found few allies in San Francisco’s lesbian and gay community. Nonetheless, newly elected, young, handsome, married to an equally attractive woman, and charismatic, Newsom showed political promise. Among his first actions as mayor, he attended President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address and heard Bush’s call for using constitutional processes to restrict marriage to different-sex couples.¹ This troubled Newsom. Although the...

    (pp. 20-42)

    When I asked Robert, a thirty-six-year-old physical therapist, what his marriage to Brian, his partner of eleven years, meant to him, he paused for a moment. He continued stroking their cat as it sat docilely in his lap, looked around the beautiful sunlit kitchen in the home he and Brian, a forty-year-old lawyer, shared, and offered this answer: “It’s interesting when you think about marriage. Certainly, for most people, the idea of being married has no connection whatsoever with making a political statement. But for us, obviously, it’s unavoidable, inescapable. You definitely are aware of that. It’s civil disobedience—you’re...

    (pp. 43-64)

    The San Francisco marriages were not just about challenging heteronormativity or the way marriage dispenses rights and props up normativity. For many respondents, they were also about gaining access to the privileged status of being normative. In a seeming contradiction, even as they vehemently decried social systems that rewarded some kinds of relationships (different-sex relationships) but not others (their own), many respondents also coveted those rewards. When given the opportunity to gain access to the legal and social advantages of marriage, they jumped at the chance. They married to protest their exclusion from marriage and to contest the heteronormative status...

    (pp. 65-81)

    In Robert’s mind, marrying in San Francisco was about making a political statement. In Steven’s mind, it was about securing legal and social recognition for his relationship. For most of my respondents, these two meanings for marriage resonated strongly. They wanted to challenge the unequal social position they found themselves in because of heteronormativity and, simultaneously, many wanted to gain the privileges marriage bestows. In complicated ways, these individuals acknowledged the presumption of heterosexuality and the social preferences for normative behavior, sometimes pushing against this system and sometimes wanting to be on the inside. Separate from these, a final set...

    (pp. 82-103)

    The men and women who married in the San Francisco weddings engaged with the heteronormative meanings of marriage in different ways. Some used marriage to fiercely contest heteronormativity, while others saw marriage as a way to gain for themselves some of the spoils of normativity—and some did both. Rather than suggest contradiction, these competing understandings should be seen as evidence of heteronormativity’s deep social roots. These roots extend into the lives of every member of society, but not always in the same way.

    As a social structure, heteronormativity is tied to sexuality—but that’s only the beginning. It is...

    (pp. 104-129)

    The preceding chapters have largely focused on respondents’ narratives of navigating heteronormative associations, examining how same-sex couples contest or strategically mobilize aspects of heteronormativity through marriage. Heteronormativity, however, is not solely constituted by practice; it also determines practice. The institution of marriage, even if its heteronormative underpinnings are challenged, is likely to have significant impacts on the lives of lesbians and gays. In this chapter, I examine three ways the institution of marriage changes the lives of same-sex couples. I begin by looking at individual relationships. Although the men and women I interviewed had been together for many years when...

    (pp. 130-149)

    Part of what makes heteronormativity so insidious is its invisible machinations. We don’t even notice it at work, making the unequal status of nonheterosexuals appear to be natural (not to mention its raced and classed effects). Chrys Ingraham (1994) calls this the “heterosexual imaginary.” Heterosexuality is so effectively integrated into society as normal that we fail to recognize its construction. In turn, heteronormativity, as a practice that (re)institutes heterosexuality as the norm, is unrecognized. Heteronormativity can be recognized when its invisible machinations are disrupted. Little can be done to reduce sexual identity–based inequality when the processes that institute it...

    (pp. 150-160)

    The San Francisco weddings were a sight to behold. Happy couples lined up in inclement weather, wearing trash bags from generous supporters to keep their clothes dry; passing cars honked their horns loudly; cheers erupted and bubbles floated through the air as same-sex couples exited city hall, registered marriage license in hand. Nothing quite like this had ever happened before. As person after person I interviewed recounted their wedding, the joy of those experiences was palpable. They showed me photos and news clippings, presented me with copies of their marriage certificates, and shared intimate emotions with me in their interviews....

    (pp. 161-170)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 171-174)
    (pp. 175-186)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 187-200)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 201-202)