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Families First: GLBT Family Issues and Resources (February 2015): Same-Sex Marriage

By Ellen Bosman

Same-Sex Marriage

By far, same-sex marriage has generated more debate and related publications than any GLBT topic in the previous twenty years. Publications on the issue range from scholarly legal tomes to religious debates and personal memoirs. The same-sex marriage debate began in earnest in the 1980s with a few works exploring marriage-like relationships prior to the twentieth century. Though these relationships cannot strictly be defined as marriage, these works offer historical perspectives on how the definition of marriage has evolved. Lillian Faderman penned an award-winning study examining female-female relationships in Surpassing the Love of Men. Her focus begins with the fourteenth century and looks to literature, especially personal correspondence, and later, medical literature as documentation for “why passionate love between women was apparently once universally condoned in the Western world and why it is now condemned.”

Departing from Faderman’s single-sex approach is Rodger Streitmatter’s Outlaw Marriages. Here, both gay and lesbian couples, largely from the twentieth century, are discussed. In this volume, which a Library Journal review1 described as “engaging and well-researched,” the author argues that these partnerships exerted a powerful influence on culture. Streitmatter’s iconic couples could scarcely imagine a world in which their relationships might be legally recognized through marriage. Those surviving until the 1970s may have encountered stray examples of the concept, including a 1971 Minnesota marriage between two men2, or hoped the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (E.R.A.) would turn gender roles and marriage on their heads and, as a remote consequence, make other forms of marriage possible. Although the E.R.A. failed and no related events followed the Minnesota marriage, major newspapers and periodicals, such as The New York Times and the New Republic, occasionally ran articles about “homosexual marriage” throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The majority of the articles took a negative view of homosexuality on religious grounds and saw it as a threat to traditional families. Often, the two objections were intertwined. Religious institutions voiced the most rigorous objections.

Libraries seeking a broad approach to the question of religion and same-sex marriage, as well as to other facets of the topic, will find many reference works available. ABC-CLIO’s “Contemporary World Issues” series includes David Newton’s Same-Sex Marriage: A Reference Handbook. Intended as a review of the situation throughout the world, this “timely, balanced presentation of both sides of the same-sex marriage debate” (CH, Mar’11, 48-3637) contains a time line of important events, brief biographical sketches of key persons and leaders in the debate, reproductions of primary source documents, and statistics. Gay Marriage is a seminal book by William Eskridge. He reviews the progression of same-sex marriage rights through the lens of progressive Scandinavian countries. Using this analysis and statistics, he refutes conservative opposition to same-sex marriage and suggests a path the United States could follow toward greater rights for GLBT couples. Katrina Kimport approaches the matter through a qualitative lens, interviewing same-sex couples in Queering Marriage and exploring how, or if, same-sex marriage affects heteronormativity. In her research she found contradictory reasons for couples seeking marriage—reasons that often were rooted in socioeconomic class. She concludes that same-sex marriage has not negatively impacted marriage and that marriage is quickly being seen as “the norm” for GLBT couples.

A plethora of online resources are devoted to same-sex marriage, only a few of which can be discussed here. Many of the websites of major organizations devoted to marriage equality and family matters, such as the Human Rights Campaign and Marriage Equality USA, are very similar. These sites feature education and training tools, media releases, fact sheets, personal stories, and recommended reading. ALA-GLBTRT offers several bibliographies, including An Annotated Bibliography of Resources on Same-Sex Marriages, which references books, both pro and con, about same-sex marriage. Lisa Bennett and Gary Gates of the Urban Institute offer The Cost of Marriage Inequality to Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Seniors, detailing the cost of marriage inequality. A report drawn from the 2000 Census, it aggregates statistics by state, major counties, age, and a number of other factors. Although dated, the data found here are otherwise time-consuming to locate and distill. Additionally, the report’s dedication to elders in the United States elders is unusual. Finally, the current and former spouses of GLBT persons are a group often overlooked in the debate over same-sex marriage. The Straight Spouse Network offers support through online forums, reading lists, personal stories, and FAQs covering everything from explanations for children to legal matters.

Readers interested in memoirs about GLBT marriage will appreciate an early entry in this category: the Stonewall Award winner My Lesbian Husband by Barrie Jean Borich. The author shares personal vignettes from her relationship with her partner and ponders what they should call each other. Girlfriend? Lover? Spouse? Wife? In the absence of legal recognition, the power to name their relationship is poignant on a personal level and important to the world’s perception of them as a couple. This is a touching peek inside a relationship. Ken Harvey, an award-winning short story writer, contributes his memoir A Passionate Engagement. His journey of coming out, falling in love, and becoming an activist for same-sex marriage is highly personal. His book earned a spot on the 2012 “Over the Rainbow List,” sponsored by ALA-GLBTRT, for its authentic content. Finally, collections desiring an artistic representation of the debate over same-sex marriage will find few monographic resources; hence Apsara DiQuinzio’s edited The Air We Breathe belongs in academic libraries. Comprising essays, plates, line drawings, photographs, paintings, poems, and other commissioned art forms, this book brings a one-of-a-kind perspective to the marriage debate.

Works Cited