Outlaw Marriages: The Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same-Sex Couples

Posted by Kelly on June 15, 2013

Cover of Outlaw Marriages

Rodger Streitmatter.  Outlaw Marriages: The Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same-Sex Couples. Beacon Press, 2012. Hardcover. 224p. $26.95. 978-0-8070-0334-3. 

The timing for this book could not be better with the eminent decision from the U.S. Supreme Court regarding marriage equality in the country.  In chronological order, Streitmatter profiles fifteen same-sex couples in which at least one partner achieved fame: Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle, Martha Carey Thomas and Mamie Gwinn, John Marshall and Ned Warren, Jane Addams and Mary Rozet Smith, Bessie Marbury and Elsie de Wolfe, J. C. Leyendecker and Charles Beach, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Solita Solano and Janet Flanner, Mercedes de Acosta and Greta Garbo, Aaron Copland and Victor Kraft, Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo, James Baldwin and Lucien Happersberger, Robert Rauschenberf and Jasper Johns, James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, Frances Clayton and Audre Lorde.

The author’s premise is that the extraordinary achievement of the better-known partner would not have been possible without the unacknowledged support of the other partner. Several chapters begin with some variation on “Flanner wouldn’t have succeeded without the help she received from her same-sex partner.”  And several chapters conclude with a lament such as “None of the obituaries or numerous tributes that appeared in the nation’s major publications made any mention of  Mercedes de Acosta.” Streitmatter becomes a little tedious, especially when the couple were themselves hiding the relationship or it had already ended painfully.

Nevertheless, the research and presentation of these marriages together is a great service that can expand our national re-evaluation of the meaning of marriage in our society.  Outlaw Marriages would be an excellent discussion starter as it presents both successful and dysfunctional  relationships and demonstrates that it is the couple, not the magistrate or preacher, who make a marriage.  This book needs to be available in all libraries.

Reviewer: Carolyn Caywood. Retired

Virginia Beach Public Library

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