Off the Shelf #10
Courting Equality : Tracking the Literature of Same-Sex Marriage
by Rob Ridinger
An important event heralding a new chapter of the same-sex marriage story was initiated by Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco on February 10, 2004, when he ordered city clerks to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The action was quickly termed illegal and halted, but not before several thousand marriages had been solemnized, the first being that of Phyllis Lyons and Del Martin, founders of the Daughters of Bilitis. This event highlighted an ongoing debate on the issue recorded in an explosion of books over the decades after Stonewall dealing with all aspects of same-sex marriage from designing commitment ceremonies to the legal issues involved. But to place this body of writing in perspective, it is necessary to briefly examine earlier publications on the idea.
A literature search on “homosexual marriage” across disciplinary lines reveals an almost total absence of the concept prior to the rise of the homophile movement in the 1950s. One notable exception is a short article written by a New York physician which appeared in the journal Psychoanalytic Review in 1943. The article presents two case studies of homosexual “marriages” and proceeds to place their psychological dynamics within the then-dominant models of personality theory and sadism. The piece is a useful illustration of the challenges to individual integrity posed to men and women drawn to their own gender from the medical and psychiatric professions in this era.
Despite this, discussion of the reality and viability of long-term same-sex relationships was solidly among the subjects considered by the homophile movement during the 1950s and early 1960s and written about in the pages of publications such as ONE Magazine. Perhaps the clearest view of how marriage was viewed by gay men prior to Stonewall comes from June 1963 article in ONE Magazine, titled “Let’s Push Homophile Marriage.” The author was in a long-term relationship at the time the piece was written and cites Edward Carpenter as the “first to intellectually push homophile marriage” (Lloyd 1963: 6). In light of subsequent events in the struggle for LGBT marriage, a statement made in the closing section of this article has a touch of prophecy to it:
“It seems to me that when society finally accepts homophiles as a valid minority, with minority rights, it is going first of all to accept the married homosexuals. We are, after all, the closest to their ideals….high time the modern homophile movement started paying more attention to homophile marriage” (Lloyd 1963:9-10).
This same level of optimism can be seen in the literature produced on same-sex couples prior to 1991, much of which was devoted to describing and verifying their existence and documenting their validity. Perhaps the most influential (and widely read) work is David P. McWhirter and Andrew M. Mattison’s groundbreaking study The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop, published in 1984. The authors (themselves a couple) interviewed 156 other couples across the United States who had been together for periods of time ranging from one to thirty-seven years. Data were gathered over a period of five years and some couples were interviewed more than once, adding a longitudinal quality to the resulting data. A particularly valuable feature of the book is the inclusion of the complete text of the interview format used. The book was translated into German in 1986 and reissued in English in 1988. Other works from the 1980s that expanded the pool of awareness of the lives and times of LGBT couples are The Mendola Report from 1980 (the result of a mailing of 1500 questionnaires seeking couples done by the compiler, notable for its deliberate use of the term “marriage” to describe committed long-term same-sex pairings), Charles Silverstein’s Man to Man : Gay Couples in America from 1981, psychotherapist Betty Berzon’s supportive Permanent Partners: Building Gay and Lesbian Relationships that Last and Eric Marcus’s The Male Couple’s Guide to Living Together, the latter two published in 1988. Representative of the beginnings of a new genre that would culminate in the early 21st century with several guides of how to create a uniquely individual bonding experience is Becky Butler’s Ceremonies of the Heart: Celebrating Lesbian Unions (1990), where twenty-seven couples recount the diverse array of rituals and language they chose.
A unique publication documenting the path to marriage in San Francisco is Will You Be Mine?: Domestic Partnership, San Francisco City Hall, February 14, 1991 by Diane Whitacre. It was issued by Crooked Street Press in 1992 and presents numerous photographs of couples registering their unions as far as was possible at the time. It was followed later that year by the collection Lesbian and Gay Marriage: Private Commitments, Public Ceremonies by Suzanne Sherman from Temple University Press. The volume shows clearly the range of opinion in the LGBT community at this time over the value and relevance of marriage, with the main body of the book based on interviews with twenty-four lesbian and gay couples, both married and unmarried. Readers seeking a concise summary of the arguments pro and con will find the opening chapters by lawyers William Stoddard and Paula Ettlebrick (past and then-current directors of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund) enlightening.
The rest of the 1990s were marked by a steady stream of books which continued to address LGBT marriage from two perspectives. The first of these is works tracking the legal angles of the ongoing marriage debate at all levels from city and county governments to state and actions (or lack thereof) taken in its support, while the second continued to look at couples from the inside and the evolving meaning of commitment. William Eskridge’s The Case for Same-Sex Marriage: From Sexual Liberty to Civilized Commitment (1996) was followed in 1997 by Same-Sex Marriage: The Moral and Legal Debate edited by Robert M. Baird and Stuart E. Rosenbaum (a second edition of this anthology would be issued in 2004).
The first work to consider the constitutional aspects of the marriage question (a focus that would become central to all later court cases) was Mark Philip Strasser’s Legally Wed: Same-Sex Marriage and the Constitution (1997). The last two years of the 1990s witnessed a major expansion of available literature centered around the idea of commitment as well. Examples of this emerging genre issued in 1998 are On the Road to Same-Sex Marriage: A Supportive Guide to Psychological, Political, and Legal Issues by Robert P Cabaj and David W Purcell, Recognizing Ourselves: Ceremonies of Lesbian and Gay Commitment by Ellen Lewin, and Eric Marcus’s Together Forever: Gay and Lesbian Marriage. The trend continued in 1999 with the publication of From This Day Forward: Commitment, Marriage, and Family in Lesbian and Gay Relationships by Gretchen A Stiers, Doing the Work of Love: Men & Commitment in Same-Sex Couples by J Michael Clark, and When Love Lasts Forever: Male Couples Celebrate Commitment by Merle J. Yost. The legal background to the idea of same-sex marriage was further explored in 1999 by Mark Philip Strasser in The Challenge of Same-Sex Marriage: Federalist Principles and Constitutional Protections.
With the new millennium came an explosion of books. Mark Strasser’s third book, On Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions, and the Rule of Law: Constitutional Interpretation at the Crossroads, appeared in 2002, accompanied by Equality for Same-Sex Couples: The Legal Recognition of Gay Partnerships in Europe and the United States by Yuval Merin, and The Limits to Union: Same-Sex Marriage and the Politics of Civil Rights by Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller. And in 2004, the Human Rights Campaign began utilizing the internet to share information on the rapidly shifting landscape of state legislation affecting same-sex marriage by initiating an annual online review with the title Equality from State to State. That year also saw an expansion of the pool of books dealing with LGBT marriage from the perspective of giving LGBT relationships the same legal standing as those entered into by heterosexuals. The Basic Books series added a volume by historian George Chauncey (author of the massive Gay New York) entitled Why Marriage?: The History Shaping Today’s Debate Over Gay Equality, followed by Evan Wolfson’s Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry, Jonathan Rauch’s Gay Marriage: Why it is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America, and Legalizing Gay Marriage by Michael Mello. The exploration of place of same-sex marriage within the American constitutional system begun by Mark Strasser’s books in the 1990s was continued in Same-Sex Marriage and the Constitution by Evan Gerstmann, with a more general review provided by Sean Cahill in Same-Sex Marriage in the United States: Focus on the Facts. The development of same-sex marriage literature beyond overviews of specific legal and cultural aspects is marked by the appearance of the first study of how advocacy for it played out in a single American state, Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage by David Moats. Moats was the editorial page writer of the Rutland Herald and both wrote in support of civil unions (which Vermont became the first state to grant to LGBT people in 2000) and provides a detailed account of the principal participants in the fight for civil unions, both within and outside the state legislative process.
The achievement of civil unions in one state immediately raised the question of how the rest of the United States jurisdictions would respond, specifically as regarded the “full faith and credit” provision of the Constitution (Article IV, section 1). The question was tackled in 2007 by Andrew Koppelman in Same Sex, Different States: When Same-Sex Marriages Cross State Lines, while the evolution of the complexities of debate can best be seen in the three-volume set, Defending Same-Sex Marriage issued by Praeger that same year. Even the U.S. Senate contributed to the documentary record (although a bit delayed) by issuing in 2008 Preserving Traditional Marriage: A View from the States, the text of a hearing held before the Committee on the Judiciary on June 22, 2004. The title of another 2008 volume, Judicial Activism: Same Sex Marriage and the Aftermath of California’s Prop. 8, speaks to an aspect of the marriage discussion that saw court decisions as forces for change in the absence of formal alteration of civil rights laws. A second annual source devoted to tracking the shifting landscape of same-sex marriages across the United States, The Geography of Love, began to appear from the University of Washington School of Law in 2011. The four years between the first Geography of Love and the Supreme Court decision of June 2015 legalizing same-sex marriage in all fifty states were marked by an increasing number of books that attempted to focus and interpret the quickly diversifying legal framework of the arguments for and against LGBT marriage. 2013 saw the publication of Courthouse Democracy and Minority Rights: Same-Sex Marriage in the States by Robert J. Hume and From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage by Michael J. Klarman.
Proposition 8 and its impact were further documented in 2014 by Redeeming the Dream: Proposition 8 and the Struggle for Marriage Equality by David Boies and Theodore Olson. The authors were the lawyers who filed a federal lawsuit in 2009 seeking to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage, and thus provide an in depth view of this important event from an insider’s perspective. Questions related to the dynamics of families headed by same-sex couples continued to be examined in works such as Queering Marriage: Challenging Family Formation in the United States by Katrina Kimport and Carlos Ball’s Same-sex Marriage and Children: A Tale of History, Social Science and Law. Marc Solomon, the national campaign director of the advocacy group Freedom To Marry (and a veteran of the battle to preserve the Massachusetts ruling granting same-sex marriage rights) penned a detailed and accessible history of the issue’s complex politics, which appeared in 2014 as Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits –And Won. A similar book also published that year is Jason Pierceson’s Same-Sex Marriage in the United States: The Road to the Supreme Court. One of the most notable books of 2014 relating to same-sex marriage was Rachel Cleves’ detailed account of two women who forged a relationship in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century New England. Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America utilizes personal diaries, letters and family documents to illuminate an intriguing part of colonial life.
As excitement grew in 2015 in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling on the legality of same-sex marriages in the United States, more detailed books covering specific legal battles in the struggle for equality continued to be written, expanding the available pool of information. Attorney Roberta Kaplan recounted the details of the (eventually successful) lawsuit against the Defense of Marriage Act in Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA, while retired Des Moines Register writers Tom Witosky and Marc Hansen presented the story of the 2009 decision by the Iowa Supreme Court to allow gay marriage in Equal Before The Law: How Iowa Led Americans to Marriage Equality. A notable feature of this book is that among its sources were the justices of the court. The place of marriage as a public institution and the arguments made about it in the arenas of law and public opinion were carefully reviewed by political scientist Stephen Macedo in Just Married: Same-Sex Couples, Monogamy, & The Future of Marriage. Constitutional law professor Kenji Yoshino provides a close look at the 2010 federal lawsuit that overturned California’s controversial Proposition 8 in Speak Now: Marriage Equality On Trial: The Story of Hollingsworth vs Perry (the book was later chosen to receive the 2015 Stonewall Israel Fishman Non-Fiction Award at the American Library Association Midwinter meeting in Boston in January 2016). Recognition of activism for same-sex marriage elsewhere in the western hemisphere (begun by Same-Sex Marriage in the Americas: Policy Innovation for Same-Sex Relationships published by Lexington Books in 2010 and expanded by Jason Pierceson’s Same-Sex Marriage in Latin America: Promise and Resistance in 2013) continued in 2015 with Jordi Diez’s The Politics of Gay Marriage in Latin America: Argentina, Chile, and Mexico.
While the books about the decision of the Supreme Court and the response of the LGBT community across the United States on that historic day in June 2015 have yet to be written, it is fitting to note that one lost tale of the past of the marriage struggle was also restored to the world during 2015. In 1970, activist Jack Baker and his lover Michael McConnell successfully applied for and received a marriage license in Minnesota and formally celebrated their union in due legal fashion. In 2014, during the sorting of their personal papers for the Tretter Collection at the University of Minnesota, they decided to utilize the letters, photographs and memorabilia as sources to tell the full story of what was at the time a landmark of modern gay rights advocacy. Publication of the resulting book, The Wedding Heard Round the World: America’s First Gay Marriage, in 2016 serves as a reminder that many of the stories surrounding same-sex marriage still remain to be told.
Baird, Robert M. and Stuart E. Rosenbaum. Same-Sex Marriage: The Moral and Legal Debate. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1997, 2004.
Ball, Carlos A. Same-Sex Marriage and Children: A Tale of History, Social Science, and Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
Berzon, Betty. Permanent Partners: Building Gay and Lesbian Relationships that Last. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1988.
Boies, David and Theodore Olson. Redeeming the Dream: Proposition 8 and the Struggle for Marriage Equality. New York: Plume, 2015.
Butler,Becky. Ceremonies of the Heart: Celebrating Lesbian Unions. Seattle, Wash.: Seal Press, 1990.
Cabaj, Robert P. and David W Purcell. On the Road to Same-Sex Marriage: A Supportive Guide to Psychological, Political, and Legal Issues. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998.
Cahill, Sean. Same-Sex Marriage in the United States: Focus On The Facts. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2004.
Chauncey, George. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940.New York: Basic Books, 1994.
Chauncey, George. Why Marriage?: The History Shaping Today’s Debate Over Gay Equality . New York, Basic Books; 2004.
Clark, Michael. Doing The Work of Love: Men & Commitment In Same-Sex Couples. Harriman, Tennessee: Men’s Studies Press, 1999.
Cleves, Rachel Hope. Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
Defending Same-Sex Marriage edited by Mark Philip Strasser, Traci C West, Martin Dupuis and William A. Thompson. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2007. 3 volumes.
Diez, Jordi. The Politics of Gay Marriage in Latin America: Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Equality from state to state: Washington, D.C.: Human Rights Campaign, 2004.
Eskridge, William N., Jr. The Case for Same-Sex Marriage: From Sexual Liberty to Civilized Commitment. New York: Free Press, 1996.
The gay & lesbian marriage & family reader: analyses of problems and prospects for the 21st century edited by Jennifer M Lehmann. New York: Gordian Knot Books; Lincoln, Neb.: Distributed by University of Nebraska Press, 2001.
The Geography of Love. University of Washington.; School of Law, 2011.
Gerstmann, Evan. Same-Sex Marriage and the Constitution. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Goldberg-Hiller, Jonathan. The Limits to Union: Same-Sex Marriage and the Politics of Civil Rights. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002, 2004.
Hume, Robert J. Courthouse Democracy and Minority Rights: Same-Sex Marriage in the States. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.
Judicial activism: same sex marriage and the aftermath of California’s Prop. 8. Chapman University; School of Law. Orange, Calif.: Chapman University School of Law, 2008.
Kaplan, Roberta. Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and The Defeat Of DOMA. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.
Kimport, Katrina. Queering Marriage: Challenging Family Formation in the United States.. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2014.
Klarman, Michael J. From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press,2013, 2014.
Koppelman, Andrew. Same sex, different states: When Same-Sex Marriages Cross State Lines. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.
Lesbian and Gay Marriage: Private Commitments, Public Ceremonies, edited by Suzanne Sherman. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.
Lewin, Ellen. Recognizing Ourselves: Ceremonies of Lesbian and Gay Commitment . New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
Lloyd, Randy. “Let’s Push Homophile Marriage.” ONE Magazine, v.11, n.6, June 1963: 5-10.
McConnell, Michael with Jack Baker. The Wedding Heard Round The World: America’s First Gay Marriage. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.
Macedo, Stephen. Just Married: Same-Sex Couples, Monogamy, & the Future of Marriage. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2015.
McWhirter, David P. and Andrew M. Mattison. The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1984.
Marcus, Eric. The Male Couple’s Guide to Living Together: What Gay Men Should Know About Living with Each Other and Coping in a Straight World. New York: Perennial Library, 1988.
Marcus, Eric. Together Forever: Gay and Lesbian Marriage. New York: Doubleday, 1998.
Mello, Michael. Legalizing Gay Marriage. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004.
Merin, Yuval. Equality for Same-Sex Couples: The Legal Recognition of Gay Partnerships in Europe and the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
Moats, David. Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage. Orlando: Harcourt, 2004.
Pierceson, Jason. Same-Sex Marriage in the United States: The Road to the Supreme Court. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield , 2014.
Pierceson, Jason. Adriana Piatti-Crocker, and Shawn Schulenberg. Same-Sex Marriage in Latin America: Promise and Resistance. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2013.
Pierceson, Jason. Adriana Piatti-Crocker, and Shawn Schulenberg. Same-Sex Marriage in the Americas: Policy Innovation for Same-Sex Relationships. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2010.
Preserving Traditional Marriage: A View from the States. Hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, One Hundred Eighth Congress, second session, June 22, 2004.
United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 2008.
Rauch, Jonathan. Gay Marriage: Why it is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America. New York: Times Books/Henry Holt and Co, 2004.
Robbins, B. S. Psychological implications of the male homosexual “marriage.” Psychoanalytic Review. Vol.30 1943, pp. 428-437.
Silverstein, Charles. Man to Man: Gay Couples in America. New York: Morrow, 1981.
Solomon, Marc. Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of how Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians And Pundits –And Won. Lebanon, New Hampshire: ForeEdge, 2014.
Stiers, Gretchen A. From This Day Forward: Commitment, Marriage, and Family in Lesbian and Gay Relationships. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.
Strasser, Mark Philip. The Challenge of Same-Sex Marriage: Federalist Principles and Constitutional Protections. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1999.
Strasser, Mark Philip. Legally Wed: Same-Sex Marriage and the Constitution. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997.
Strasser, Mark Philip. On Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions, and the Rule of Law: Constitutional Interpretation at the Crossroads. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2002.
Whitacre, Dianne. Will You Be Mine?: Domestic Partnership, San Francisco City Hall, February 14, 1991.San Francisco, Calif.: Crooked Street Press, 1992.
Witosky, Tom and Marc Hansen. Equal Before the Law: How Iowa Led Americans to Marriage Equality. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2015.
Wolfson, Evan. Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right To Marry. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
Yoshino, Kenji. Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial; The Story of Hollingsworth vs Perry. New York: Crown Publishers, 2015.
Yost, Merle J. When Love Lasts Forever: Male Couples Celebrate Commitment. Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1999.
Copyright R. Ridinger 2016.