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October 08 , 2007

Queering Marriage

Challenging Family Formation in the United States


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.

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In Queering 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.

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