When Gay People Get Married

Posted on August 2, 2009
Filed Under Book Review, Same-Sex Marriage | 305 Comments

When gay people get marriedYesterday New York University Press published an important book:  When Gay People Get Married, What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage.  As the title suggests, this book is an in depth analysis of how societies have been changed by the legalization of same sex marriage.  There is a particular emphasis on The Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries–because these countries have had same sex marriage the longest–but other countries are also covered.  The birth rates of these countries are examined.  As are the marriage rates and the cohabitation rates.  There are multitudinious statistics and graphs.  This is a serious academic repudiation of those who argue that the legalization of same-sex marriage will result in some sort of sociological calamity.

All of this could make for a pretty dry read.  But Ms. Badgett was wise to inject her own same sex marriage story into the book–personalizing the narrative.  She passionately and intelligently describes the insidious discrimination that LGBTs experience in their daily lives.

Most people–sometimes including gay and lesbian people themselves–do not realize the extent of the sense of difference that is embedded in many gay people’s lives and, consequently, in most social interactions.  In a given day or even hour, the context of difference means that we might travel back and forth between feeling affirmation and alienation, connection and rejection, understanding and confusion.  Not all of us operate at the extremes, of course, at least not all the time.  Maintaining one’s mental health in a world that legally treats gay people as second class citizens, with no protection against employment discrimination in thirty states and very little recognition of relationships, means learning to distinquish ordinary unfriendliness from prejudiced behavior, to choose battles carefullly, but bravely, and to depersonalize institutional discrimination, including exclusion from marriage.

In the conclusion she writes:

While writing this book, I’ve also lived through most of the changes discussed here:  deciding whether to marry, creating a meaningful ceremony, coming out as a woman who has a female wife and addressing the social and legal implications of a new status.  My relatives treat my wife differently, my employer extends benefits to her and we feel more committed to each other–all outcomes that help me easily overlook the fact that my taxes have risen.

Ms Badgett also acknowledges that, as positive as her own same sex marriage experience was, not everyone is on board.  In the Netherlands for example the same sex marriage rates are still surprisingly low. 

Near the end of the book Ms. Badgett takes a few pages to ask some rhetorical questions.  Such as:  Will gay people change marriage?  And:  Will marriage change gay people?  The short answer to these questions, I believe, is “Yes.”  For the longer answer, we’ll all just have to wait.  Perhaps until Ms. Badgett’s next book.

M. V. Lee Badgett’s When Gay People Get Married, What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage is published by New York University Press.

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