Same-Sex Marriage As Inclusion And Exclusion

Broken_Marriage Amidst all of the celebration about New York State's gay marriage win last week, a key criticism of the institution has been lost: that marriage isn't always about equality.

That's what New York University sociology professor Judith Stacey says in a New York Times piece called "Unequal Opportunity."

From Stacey's piece:

Contrary to conservative fears, the gay struggle for the right to marry rebuffs rather than promotes radical feminist and gay family politics. A bid for inclusion, not upheaval, the campaign for marriage has already been nudging gay culture in a more conventional direction. Winning the right to marry exerts social pressure to do so. My research suggests that younger gays are less likely than their forebears to envision alternatives to marriage and nuclear family life.

Same-sex marriage enthusiasts are wrong to celebrate the democratizing effects of their victory in New York. To be sure, it removes an indefensible form of discrimination against lesbians and gay men. But the upshot of celebrating marriage is to exacerbate discrimination against the unmarried and their children — a rising proportion of our population, particularly among its poorer and darker members. Same-sex marriage, like its heterosexual model, is disproportionately accessible to members of the white middle class.

Marriage never has been or will be an equal-opportunity institution.

What are your thoughts, dear reader? Does Stacey have the right idea, or do the world's problems come from human inaction, rather than nuptials?


  1. AllBeefPatty says

    “Same-sex marriage, like its heterosexual model, is disproportionately accessible to members of the white middle class.”

    You are right. As the black population consistently ranks numero uno in unwed pregnancy. Some people strive for community while others do not.

  2. Daniel says

    Oh come on, are gay people supposed to be sexual freaks and renegades? Or can we have the same desire to settle down, claim permanency in an impermanent world, however brief, and just live? Having the right to get married makes it ONE option of many. If you don’t want to get married, then bloody well don’t. Everything can co-exist!

  3. Pete n SFO says

    Does anyone else get a little tired of people telling me what my gay-identity is?

    Marriage Equality is about equal protection under the law within our own f’n country.

    I really doubt that anyone is getting married to ‘send’ a message to society.

    Do these people sit in darkened rooms & smoke pot all day until they can come up with the most provocative obtuse perspective???

    Sometimes a cigar is just an f’n cigar!

  4. Keppler says

    This is a standard contrarian canard: AIDS is good because it leads us to value life in ways we never did before, and marriage is bad because it leads us to undervalue singleness and alternative lifestyles. Hogwash! The value you assign to life, to institutions, has more to say about you than about the institutions available to you. If you don’t like marriage, don’t get married. It’s about choice, and I don’t feel guilty if you’re too weak to resist the perceived social pressure you feel to do what I choose to do.

  5. WebHybrid says

    Stacey sounds a familiar note. I [a single elder] quite often feel slighted and insulted, if not entirely excluded. One case in point: the AARP. It’s notably LGBT-inclusive. That’s nice. But then there is the dreaded two-for-one membership:
    “Spouse/Partner Information.
    Membership fee includes spouse/partner free.
    Your spouse will also receive a membership card.”

    Sigh. All too common. To me it translates – always has – as “You’re single? Too bad. You have to pay double.”

    So yes, extending marriage as a legal option to LGBTs would seem to be an on-ramp to Equality Highway, but the truer path would have been to eliminate *all* privileges owing to adults with married status.

  6. AllBeefPatty says

    @Pete in SFO.

    Maybe she is the antithesis of Doktor Laura. And no one wanted to marry her either.

    The only message that gay marriage is sending is “step aside heteros, let me show you how it’s done” That’s the real fear.

  7. Mike says

    Oh brother… All comments so far equally reflect just how absurd the article was… I especially liked Pete N SFO who summed it up very nicely – “Sometimes a cigar is just a f’n cigar!”

  8. says

    There is so much wrong with that excerpt from Stacey’s piece that I don’t know where to start. How about “disproportionately available to the white middle-class.” Without some investigation of causes, that’s no more than polemic.

    As for rebuffing radical feminist and gay family politics, who cares? Why should radical feminism and “gay family politics” be allowed to co-opt a nice focused civil rights movement — again? She also seems not to notice that one of the ostensible goals of feminism — egalitarian marriages — is now established fact in six states and D.C.

    Took a minute to read the whole piece. It is polemic, and nothing more, masquerading as analysis. I can agree with her conclusion, but not the road she took to get there — too many holes, too many assertions, too many “research results” from studies that don’t seem to have asked the right questions.

  9. Q says

    We have heard this argument in different forms so many times before. What it fails to realize is that the marriage fight is all about acceptance for LGBT people as fully equal members of our society. That doesn’t just benefit married gay people, it benefits everyone. I have never seen one of these arguments that explains why tolerating the unequal treatment of LGBTs under the law is a good strategy for promoting the alternative vision of family life that they advocate.

  10. Tommy Marx says

    It is editorials like this that irritate me. I am too old to serve in the military, yet I fully support a nondiscriminatory policy regarding gays in the military. It’s been 14 years since I’ve been interested in pledging eternal love to another man, but I am a strong advocate of marriage equality. Just because I wouldn’t benefit from a specific right granted to others doesn’t mean I shouldn’t fight for it. If someone wants to fight for equal rights for single parents, I’m there. But to suggest that we should shun gay/lesbian couples who want to get married is ridiculous. Why can’t we have both?

  11. BA says

    It essentially argues that we should be wary of the promise of marriage because it makes others who choose an alternative lifestyle feel inferior. What is fails to disregard is the notion of CHOICE. Yes, maybe it does. Maybe when marriage takes hold in the gay community, gays will feel social pressure to wed legally when they fall in love lest they feel they are doing something wrong. But that does not change the fact that those gays who would gladly do so free of such pressures should absolutely have the right to do so.

    It’s like she’s blasting marriage on the one hand for such affects, but then acting like it’s bad that people aren’t picking it when free to do so on the other.

  12. kodiak says

    Show me any institution that is perfect and works for everybody.

    I can’t hear you.

  13. Jonathan says

    I’m so sick of feminists. Feminists don’t want equality. They want women to have the choice to do anything they want but men need to work and pay them if their marriages don’t work out or even if they live together and THAT doesn’t work out. So all forms of relationships are fine as long as men pay them. That about sums up how I feel about feminists. . . .

  14. Robbie says

    Stacy is wrong. Flat out wrong. Poor people and women can marry whoever they want. It may be a little more difficult to find an appropriate mate–but THEY CAN ALL MARRY. As a gay man, I AM FORBIDDEN TO BY LAW.

    Duh, Stacy. Stop trying to coat it in pseudo-feminist or sociological terms. I’m the biggest progressive but this just smacks of ignorance about what gay people are routinely and cruelly denied: the protections, rights, and benefits of marriage.

  15. Matthew says

    ^^^What Robbie said.

    I can’t help that the black population has the highest rate of unwed parents. I can, however, work toward equal rights for all citizens.

  16. gdnm says

    The comments so far have been very provocative, in the sense that they have provoked me “not to defend Stacey” so much as to offer another way to read her analysis (as not just a polemic) and towards larger patterns in understanding the webs of gay politics.

    Marriage has never been about equality. If you trace the beginnings of marriage as a union it was never between spouses but between the suitor (the man) and the soon-to-be wife’s father. The exchange between men was for the daughter to be a wife and for the father to accrue more money/land. This handing off of the daughter has transformed into a sentimental moment when he walks her down the aisle. Though it might seem hard to believe, this dowry process or the modern version of it still is being carried out globally, perhaps not as well-known in the U.S. but we shouldn’t believe that if it doesn’t happen here then it doesn’t happen anywhere.

    Gay marriage could not be possible without a gay movement that took shape in the second half of the last century and continues today. A gay movement would not have taken shape the way it did without the introduction of the term homosexual, which if you can guess was used to medically treat people with a mental disorder in the late 19th century onto the early 20th century. The reason why we can even talk about marriages of same-sex folks is because there was this “polemic” (ooo bad word) created by the medical institution that eventually saw itself codified into law.

    So HUNTER, when Stacey cites “white middle-class” privilege, its not to bash white middle-class folks (unless it hits a nerve!) more so to bash the privilege that comes with being white and middle-class and increasingly gay as well. Deride her analysis by calling it a polemic, but that’s exactly what a polemic is: a discussion amongst folks through texts and analysis. There’s nothing wrong with polemics so long as we can learn from them; they are meant to provoke further discussion not to squash it by “rebuffing radical feminists”. WHICH IS BY THE WAY NOT A GOAL OF RADICAL FEMINISM! There are many types of feminisms and they are NOT monolithic in structure/people/politics/sociality. Radical feminists I hate to break it to you WILL ALWAYS BE infiltrating the gay rights movement because it, alongside anti-gay movements, work to oppress queer radicals that are “freaks” and “renegades”! We don’t want to be assimilated into 2/3-bedroom houses in SF/LA/NYC, 1.5 children, and white picket fences. Only the middle-class can afford all that, can’t they?

    WEBHYBRID is right on by calling to “eliminate *all* privileges owing to adults with married status”. Being married, to no surprise, results in receiving many legal benefits. I should have these rights even if I’m not married. Marriage is not just about love and relationships, and if you think that’s all it should be about, then you’re completely missing Stacey’s point or for that matter believe there’s something wrong with gay people who oppose marriage. As an institutional practice, it privileges over single people, stable threesomes, orgies, deviants, radicals, anti-capitalists, queers. Marriage is set up to not preserve these people through rights. Instead, they are chastised for being promiscuous and non-conforming or reductively too weak to make a “life” for themselves and “get married” like everyone else. “Equal Marriage” supports/promotes/rewards permanency and devalues the impermanent to live their way.

  17. Jon says

    The article implies that marriage is nothing but rights. But for every right that comes along with marriage there’s a matchingresponsibility. Married people get some economic benefits, but they’re also legally responsible for each other’s debts. They get to make medical decisions if their spouse is unable to do so, but they’re also responsible for the cost of those medical decisions. They cam share in their spouse’s pension, but they can’t take their pension in a way that doesn’t provide for the spouse without the spouse’s permission. People who choose not to marry avoid those obligations.

  18. says

    I guess I’m just one of those people that believes America to be a medley of humanity rather than a “melting pot” but inclusion is not always about assimilation and succumbing to majoritarian prerogatives and if our fight is for equality rather than semantics then why not get the government out of “marriage” and fight for civil unions, performed by government, for both straight and gay couples with equal rights and responsibilities? That is both a reiteration of separation of church and state and a victory for equality for LGBT relationships. This is exactly what was done in New Zealand.

    And way to go GDNM in educating us on Stacey’s analysis (of which those two paragraphs above I AGREE with).

  19. The Iron Orchard says

    If you want to get married get married, just don’t take away my domestic partner benefits just because you do!

  20. BC says

    I don’t get it. What are the access barriers for non-white non-middle class people? The cost of the marriage license ($40)? Are racist city clerks refusing marriage licenses to non-white people? What? If it’s just that fewer non-white non-middle class people are choosing to getting married, the argument sort of falls apart, doesn’t it?

  21. says

    I’ve never been a fan of the institution of marriage. Being tied to ancient chattel laws making someone the owner of another by marriage is not my idea of equality. On the other hand, I am not a fan of having to draw up dozens of separate legal documents in order to protect myself and those I love. Personally, I would like some option in between. I want to be able to identify my (future) partner as someone who has inheritance rights, the right to be at my side just as any blood relative, and the right to make decisions on my behalf. That’s just for starters. Is that a civil union? Should my (future) partner and I go our separate ways do we have to divorce anyway to make it legal? Marriage in that respect seems like a shortcut…other than that pesky divorce part.

  22. Tim NC says

    @Brandon, Civil Marriage in the US already is the government granting a legal union between two people. Straight couples and , where it’s legal, same-sex couples. Civil marriage is not religious marriage. The government is in the business of civil marriage “rights”. But, they are not in the business of religious marriage “rites”. There is no requirement to have a religious ceremony at all. Atheists get married in the US every day. The only confusion is that in the US the government allows religious institutions, for those that want them, to perform the ceremony as a proxy for a government official. You know the part, by the power vested in me by THE STATE, I now pronounce you man and wife… They don’t say by the power vested in me by the GOD I believe in… they say THE STATE
    Just because those that believe in religion keep shouting that they own and created the institution of marriage, doesn’t make it true. And, suggesting that the government should get out of the business of marriage allows the bigots to frame the debate on their terms even when their terms are wrong.

  23. Randy says

    I support same-sex marriage for two reasons:
    1. Opposite-sex marriage
    2. Immigration

    However, provided there was no discrimination, I would be happy if the government chose to recognize whatever relationship any two or more adults said they were in. It wouldn’t be government licensing a marriage, but government recognizing a relationship.

    Singles are at a disadvantage in some ways, due to the priority put on marriage, and something does need to be done about that.

  24. Justin L Werner says

    Just because somebody chooses to get married does not mean they are discriminating against those who cannot do so or otherwise choose to do so. It does not mean they are exacerbating any discrimination along these lines. It has nothing to do with them whatsoever: it is about the people getting married and nobody else.

  25. gdnm says

    At risk of being called a bully, I don’t mind speaking out against “polemics” that feel satisfied with marriage.

    This isn’t oppression olympics!!! It’s not uncommon for a person to be against one oppression (homophobia) and be complicit, ignorant, downplay other oppressions (racism, classism, xenophobia, transphobia). If we think of marriage as this one solution to homophobia or equality, this misses HOW marriage excludes and how marriage is supported by other structures/institutions that are oppressive.

    Racism is not just about “racists clerks”, even though it’s that as well. Racism IS STRUCTURAL. I don’t need to evoke how early forms of racism played its role in the genocide that happened and CONTINUES to happen on this land for over 300 years, through “legitimized” forms of laws (i.e. constitutions, reparations, etc.) Equality, and anti-homophobia, is deeply rooted in other -ism’s, more so than we’d like to believe. But your ignorance is bliss for you and oppression for me!

    BC, it’s NOT “just that fewer non-white non-middle class people are choosing to getting married”, recognize that the factors affecting poor to low-income people, queers of color, cannot rely on marriage to make things better. Unemployment/exploitation at work, housing inequities, high policing and incarceration rates, “access” to institutions like schools and medicine, etc. Fighting for equality involves recognizing our own privilege and not universalizing our experience as normal and as the “right way”.

    I’m sorry, BC, you “don’t get it.” I’m happy that you don’t know or have experienced the “access barriers” that you wonder about. It’s YOUR privilege to have no idea how hard it is for black/brown/yellow folk (thats Latin@-,African-,Asian-Americans if you think those are “more equal” terms, I don’t) that are pushed to survival by the state and inequities that roam and are disguised as “progress”. Barriers is not just economic and progress should not be universal. So just because you can pay for a marriage license, don’t assume its put on other people when their lives aren’t getting better, even if you think it’s disconnected. It’s always been inclusive and exclusive. Do some of us a favor and locate your privilege, recognize others’ struggles, and disinvest in forms of progress that continues to oppress. Relying on marriage and the military as spaces for equality misses the way they don’t challenge homophobia that still exists and how racism and classism are seemingly disconnected.


    Bully Out.

  26. Ken says

    I think most of the comments here miss the point. Why do we give married people special benefits anyway? As someone who is single, why should I have to pay higher taxes than someone who is married. I’d love to get married but haven’t been lucky enough to meet a person I feel I’m compatable with. I think it sucks being single and on top of it I have to pay more in taxes, just doesn’t seem right.

  27. swtsrndr says

    here’s the deal, i never had any desire to get married until i met the person who is now my husband. neither did he. funny how that works.

    i don’t pretend that allowing gay marriage will end heterosexism (which by the way is a much more accurate term than homophobia), but preventing gay marriage absolutely perpetuates the heterosexist idea that relationships that are anything but heterosexual are less valuable, less important, and less deserving of recognition.

    does same-sex marriage redefine marriage? yes, but marriage, like many other institutions, has obviously already evolved. as several others have pointed out already, marriage used to be a crazy sexist ritual focused more on transfer of property than anything else. that is clearly not why many people marry today.

    as far as this article is concerned, my decision to get married was not me giving into societal pressure (if anything it was fighting against societal pressure telling me that my relationship should not be recognized because it was same sex), it was a personal and meaningful expression of my feelings for my husband. i absolutely agree that single people are often excluded in society because of their relationship status, however preventing other people from getting married is not the answer to remedying this problem. changing the ideas about what types of relationships are worthy of respect is the right direction for our society to head in, to increase respect and recognition of more diverse relationships and single persons.

  28. Bill Perdue says

    Marriage or any type of state sanctioned or state defined partnering is not my cup of tea.

    However, the fight for same sex marriage continues to be a defensive fight against right wing bigots like the leadership of the Democrat party, Dixiecrats like the Clintons, DLC/DNC christer rightists like Obama, and the leadership of the Republican Party, the Bushes and the Bachmann’s or whomever they vomit up to run in 2010.

    Defending same sex marriage is imperative because we have to shield ourselves from the assaults they’ve been hammering us with since Bill Clinton championed, signed and boasted about DOMA in 1996. DOMA and the dozens of state DOMAs have been demoralizing and bitter defeats and all of them have taken their toll.

    That said, and noting that we have to stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who want those tax breaks and who actually want to change diapers, SSM is simply not important at all to many in our communities. The tax tax breaks and other privileges aren’t – though they should be – universal and because many object to state regulated partnering.

    On the other hand we have to insist that people who are mainly marraige activists stand in solidarity with other more important issues like ENDA or even better a comprehensive and inclusive Civil Rights Amendment that guarantees equal protection in employment, closed union shops, and equality in housing and public services and accommodations.

    I understand the historic development of what became ENDA and think we should fight for it as a temporary but I think an inclusive CRA is better. Especially one that legally establishes procedures to sue bigots, racists and misogynists and that provides punishments for them ranging from confiscatory fines to draconian jail sentences.

  29. AKChris says

    Fools. Foolish tale. Believe what you want about marriage, but marriage equality is a good thing on every front for anybody who seeks to have their relationship recognized under law. To those who say we should merely abolish marriage to provide equal benefit to all citizens is suggesting that we abolish the rising of the sun.

  30. peterparker says

    @ANDREW BELONSKY: Please stop referring to marriage equality as”gay marriage” or “same sex marriage”. Those are terms invented by the anti-marriage equality forces to make marriage between same sex partners seem threatening. Words matter. And in the public discourse over this issue it is important that our side stick to our message of equality just as well as NOM and their ilk have relentlessly portrayed our relationships as strange, unequal, and scary. Marriage Equality. Marriage Equality. Marriage Equality.

  31. TruthSeeker_Too says

    I’m (pleasantly) shocked at all the intellectuals reading Towleroad. :)

    On another topic:

    Anyone think that the recently passed New York and Rhode Island laws should require public registration by those institutions (and related entities and persons) that desire to exercise the carve-out provisions to deny services to homosexuals? This way they could avoid being mistakenly bothered by gay people.

    By putting this information on a web site accessible by the public, gay and lesbian couples will know who not to contact.

  32. ohplease says

    @TIM NC, you’re absolutely correct, of course, but I’ll do you one better: there’s no such thing as “religious marriage”. There just isn’t. There’s such a thing as religious weddings, but no recognized legal state of “religious marriage”. It simply does not exist. Only the government is in the marriage business. Religions are only in the wedding business.

    Given that marriage is something we’re exposed to from birth and everyone supposedly knows what it is and how you get one, I am perpetually amazed that anyone can be confused by this.

    @PETERPARKER, you, too, are absolutely correct. Yes, Andrew Belonsky, please stop using the words of our oppressors. Please stop using hate language to describe our marriages. There is no such thing as a “gay marriage”, there is only marriage, which is extended to same-sex couples through marriage equality. Words do indeed matter. Stop using theirs.

  33. gayalltheway says

    “My research suggests that younger gays are less likely than their forebears to envision alternatives to marriage and nuclear family life.”

    I think this is questionable because I personally know of many gay friends around my age (I’m still in my 20s) who do not believe in monogamy but who are still in support of the idea that their friends, who do believe in it, are given the equal opportunity to be “married”. I don’t think anyone would disagree that marriage is an institution that provides a ‘privileged status’ over others and people who choose to get married are rewarded with over 1000+ benefits. However, marriage is also about many other things. Marriage is about protection and security. Gay couples who have children should be treated like married couples so that if one spouse is unable to care for the children, the other spouse is automatically the next of kin/legal parent to care for them. When one spouse is in the hospital, the other should be given visitation right like any other heterosexual spouse. When one spouse inherits real estate from a deceased spouse, he/she should not have to pay taxes as if he/she were a stranger. I could go on and on but these are just some of protections that come with the “married” status.

    Marriage is also about celebration of love and commitment to another adult person, nothing more, nothing less – even if there weren’t any rights that come with marriage. I think love, in itself, is a good enough reason for people to get married and celebrate it with friends and families. How many people in this world can actually say unequivocally that they love another person and that they are loved by this person in return?

    As pointed out by Randy, there are certain rights that can only be extended to those who are in a legitimate, 1-to-1 and proven relationships and one of those is immigration or the right to sponsor a foreign-born partner/spouse to live in the country. The “married” requirement is necessary to prevent people from abusing this privilege and also deterring people from getting into fraudulent relationships in order to bring foreigners into the country for various reasons. This is why it is necessary for LGBTs especially those in binational relationships to be able to get “married” and be recognized by the government.

  34. Oliver says

    Just because I (might someday) have the right doesn’t mean I’m going to exercise the right. But I DO want my rights.

  35. Charley says

    I have heard this argument made before. It’s a crock. Having the right to marry creates no more “pressure” to do so for gay folk than it does for straight. I guess no longer being slaves made for lot of new decisions for black folk too. But is that a reason to keep wearing the chains?

  36. Tangina The Psychic says

    How about:

    Gay people can get married if they want to.

    But we don’t put pressure on people to get married and stigmatise them if they don’t.

    I’m all for people being single-parents, celibate, in four-way relationships etc, and having the opportunity to do that if that’s what they want. But I also want gay marriage.

    And I don’t think the two are incompatible. We’re not going to “pull the ladder up” for equality and acceptance when gay people get marriage. I think it’s just one step towards greater acceptability of a range of different lifestyles.

  37. says

    On the “pressure to marry” issue noted by several of the commenters here, I think Stacey has it backwards. If there’s more of an expectation for marriage and family among young gay people, maybe it’s because it’s now an option for them? It never was before. And that is something that means further inclusion in society at large. Isn’t that what we’re after?

    And for the “get the government out of the marriage business/give everyone the same benefits” advocates, those rights and privileges do have a rational basis. As we are learning from more and more actual research, marriage does promote social stability and does provide a better environment for raising children. Government does have an interest in maintaining an “orderly society.” If you want to enter into a relationship without the benefit of marriage, that’s your choice, but don’t expect the same treatment under the law, because you haven’t entered into an enforceable contract. Why then should you get the same treatment as someone who has? (And marriage is and has always been a contract.)

    I think what offends me most about Stacey’s piece is that it comes across as a particularly childish example of New Left politics: I don’t want to play by the rules, but I want all the goodies anyway. Maybe eventually we will, as a society, find a way to accommodate alternative family structures — but that accommodation is going to come with rules, because that’s the way it works.

  38. Tadpolicus Wex says

    “But the upshot of celebrating marriage is to exacerbate discrimination against the unmarried and their children — a rising proportion of our population, particularly among its poorer and darker members”

    Two mutually exclusive items:
    1. Institutional racism SUCKS!
    2. Said members of society aren’t the victims of racism when each offspring the produce yields a significant tax refund (they don’t pay taxes – many of us “entitled” gay folks of all hues subsidize this inequity).

  39. Robert says

    I disagree. Even the poorest of people, if they are heterosexual can marry. In 44 states, gay people rich or poor, don’t have any choice but to remain discriminated against.

    That said, I wonder how many heteros would marry if the 1138 rights and privileges at the federal level were denied them?

  40. Dave says

    This reads like an early post-modernist argument over what it means to assume a Feminist, Gay, Single and/or Married identity.

    After all, there is still much rancor within the Gay community over the divide between those who use their sexuality to divide themselves apart from mainstream society and those who wish to have their sexuality become an incidental part of their integration within mainstream society.

    Yes, both can co-exist. In theory. In theory, civil unions are also functionally identical to marriage. In reality, there is a bias in society against the poor, the non-white, the unmarried. None of these have legal stigmas attached to them, but the stigmas and oppression are very real.

    Modern America is definitely a land where how much wealth your family had coming into this world strongly influences how your entire life pans out. It’s not a perfect indicator, but if you were born into a white middle-to-upper class family, you probably end up in college with a 4-year degree, qualifying you for a professional job, which you’ll probably eventually find, landing you in a white middle-to-upper class income.

    If you grow up in a community that places high regard on entering into a committed relationship, you’ll probably enter into one yourself – or be ostracized for not doing so. The gay ghettos are slowly draining, as gay youth increasingly hear the message that they ARE part of mainstream society, no longer need to create an alternative, parallel society.

  41. David in Houston says

    “Same-sex marriage, like its heterosexual model, is disproportionately accessible to members of the white middle class.”

    If you can’t afford a marriage license at city hall, then you obviously shouldn’t be getting married in the first place.

    As for (straight) single people. No one is passing laws to prevent them from getting married to someone of the opposite sex.

  42. sarah says

    I agree with her in some ways, although I think her theory is too far ahead of mainstream thought and practice to even be considered in the next 50 or so years.

    Lots of people have discussed being ‘post-marriage’ for all the reasons she stated, but its not like we could just skip to it without the most obviously discriminated against party (gays) gaining equal political standing to everybody else.

    What she’s pointing out is probably the NEXT big progressive battle once gays have been granted true equality and acceptance in the US. Addressing it too early can certainly confuse the topic since mainstream culture just…doesn’t get it yet.

  43. sarah says

    Just to add one more thing:

    A gay man saying “I don’t want to get married” where gay marriage is illegal means something totally different than if he says ‘I don’t want to get married’ in a place where he legally can.

    One tells the mainstream that he is not interested in the right that he is denied, just giving one more reason to keep denying him the right.

    The latter is an act of a free man exercising his will, potentially making a statement that the world doesn’t really need marriage after all.

  44. says

    If people feel that marriage produces inequities in society and are upset by it, work to change those inequities. The institution of marriage is fair game for criticism and reform. Or maybe single life needs reform, or how benefits are distributed etc.

    But I hate these simplistic arguments artificially tied in with the fight for marriage equality. (Let’s get rid of marriage just as gay couples want in! Let’s get the government out of the marriage business and hand it to the churches just when gay couples want in! CUs for everyone just when gay couples want in!) Marriage is imperfect, but discrimination is blatantly WRONG. Currently, an entire class of people is discriminated against solely because they are gay. They do not have the choice to participate in the imperfect institution of marriage, even if they wish to. There is no rational reason for gay couples to be excluded from civil marriage regardless of how you view marriage.

    What the sociology professor is doing (from her ivory tower) is using gay civil rights progress to get greater publicity for her larger point about marriage. Make the point about marriage, Judy, but not on the backs of gay couples who have every right to participate in a basic right you disparage.

  45. qjersey says

    Dear Professor Stacey. Don’t support your argument with your “research” when you did not include a citation for it (so the rest of us can read it and evaluate it for ourselves).

    More unsupported academic theorizing without data. The column was an opinion piece and I disagree with her opinion. Don’t get me started on an old white women opining on what is going on with people of color.

  46. ANON IN SO CAL says

    “… especially among its poor and darker members.”

    Why doesn’t she just say “darkies”? Unless she means the more sinister or perverse.

    Polemics-dancing aside, I just found that sentence distasteful (all the other ones, too, while we’re on the subject).

  47. gabriel says

    I wish she would just clarify if her issue is unequal access for non-whites/non-middle class or if it’s something to do with further stigmatizing people who wish to (not “have to”) live outside of a monogamous relationship.

    I don’t entirely agree with either statement and wish she would also give some damn citations for her “research.”

    And if the issue is somehow that people who “have to” live outside of a monogamous relationship because of some situation (like unwed mothers), well, then, the issue isn’t *marriage* creating unequality. The issue becomes something about education and/or community values. Just because those exist doesn’t mean others shouldn’t be able to get married.

    I do, however, like the discussion in the comments section and think that here, at least, people are supporting their thoughts while they try to deconstruct the mess that is this opinion.

  48. BC says

    @GDNM: For all your belittling and assumptions about me personally, you still haven’t said what the barriers are! All you’ve done is talk about other problems, without drawing the connection. What exactly is preventing black/brown/yellow folk from getting married or making it harder for them to do so?

    Arguments about how privileging marriage over other family structures is hard on those other family structures seem fair game, but you haven’t claimed that these groups have some sort of special relationship to alternative family structures, or that, if they do, that relationship is anything other than a preference.

    No one is, and I’m certainly not, claiming that marriage is a panacea for all social ills. It doesn’t make sense to reject marriage equality because it doesn’t also solve the problem that “black/brown/yellow folk are pushed to survival by the state.” Are you unable to recognize that more than one struggle exists and that progress is incremental? You might as well say that there was no point in ending slavery because doing so didn’t end poverty.

    I’m sorry, but in this crowd your extremely general assertions of structural oppression and “you don’t know what it’s like” won’t get you very far. A lot of us know what it’s like to be oppressed. I want to know what the specific problems are and how they relate to an equal right to marry. I didn’t say anything about marriage being the “right way”, and try as I might, I can’t find anything in my original comment that could justify your assertions about my own privilege.

    Get a grip and try being constructive.

  49. gabriel says

    ^^ BC, love this part:
    No one is, and I’m certainly not, claiming that marriage is a panacea for all social ills. It doesn’t make sense to reject marriage equality because it doesn’t also solve the problem that “black/brown/yellow folk are pushed to survival by the state.” Are you unable to recognize that more than one struggle exists and that progress is incremental?

  50. Jason says

    How frustrating. Even in the advent of new beginnings, people still seek to find fault with what we have long sought to achieve. So what if we wish to have the same rights as everyone else? And bloody hell, just as marriage is most accessible to the “white middle classes”, so is divorce. What matters is that we have the right to choose and to be allowed the opportunity to make the mistake for ourselves without basing our opinions on “heterosexual models”.

  51. says

    Yeah, she’s an idiot.

    Her article is built on an either/or assumption about marriage (people accept marriage or they accept other forms of family as valid but not both) as well as this dewey eyed notion that once people start marrying it’s all picket fences and minivans (which ignores the fact that many married couples don’t live the cliche). Her argument is every bit as retrograde as the religious right’s argument.

    To be blunt, I can respect marriage without disdaining single persons, single parents, polyamorous families and unmarried couples and so can American society. But Ms. Stacey’s article works on the assumption that that is not the case and that undermines the validity of her perspective.

  52. Claptrap says

    The notion that marriage equality only benefits the white middle classes is a persistent and erroneous one. Ask an economically challenged lesbian with greater pigment in her skin if she would like to get health insurance from her partner’s employer without having to pay the gay tax….. of if she would be better off after her partner dies if she could collect her partner’s Social Security benefits. Marriage is not “less accessible” or less beneficial to any particular ethnic group or economic class….

  53. NoCaDrummer says

    Stacy seems to have forgotten the fact that “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people too.” Likewise, being “Gay [including women] is the radical notion that homosexuals are people too.”
    Just because she doesn’t want to get married, doesn’t mean that everyone doesn’t. She’s as bad as the wingnuts in this country who don’t want anyone who’s not “Christian” to marry.

    As for “WebHybrid”, why not be a little creative? I’m sure you’ve got at least ONE single friend who’d also like to get a partner “discount”.

  54. Robert says

    I can imagine, a decade or two from now, two men (or two women) who have been a couple for years, maybe even living together, who for some reason do NOT want to get married. Their friends and relatives may very well ask them, ‘well, why aren’t you two married yet?’

    This is a level of oppression I, for one, can regard with equanimity.

  55. Kevin_BGFH says

    I’ve been a vocal advocate for marriage equality for more than 20 years (even being on CNN when I was 21). Ironically, I’ve been single for a majority of my out gay life. Even so, I recognize that marriage equality fosters overall equality, and that benefits single gays, too.

    That said, I want to echo what WEBHYBRID and others have said. We live in a very couples-oriented society, straight and gay. When I travel with either friends or family, how often do I get relegated to an uncomfortable cot or a couch because I’m single, just so that the couple can share a nice, cozy bed in a private bedroom? Even when the couple is half my age? It’s not like I get to pay less for being relegated to the couch. On one vacation, I actually paid double just so I could have a nice bed.

    Single people don’t just pay more for things in the sense that two together can live cheaper than two apart (and how many family plan discounts and other partner benefits result in singles essentially paying more)? Society, gay and straight, tends to treat single people of any age as “not grown up yet.”

  56. nic says

    ms stacey is over-intellectualizing the issue — as people in academia are wont to do. one can hang a thesis on an old rusty nail clinging to moldy drywall. (believe me, i walked the corridors of musty institutions for many years.) look at antonin scalia. his tortuous arguments will continue to stink up the halls of scotus long after his hang-dog jowls abandon his dessicated right-wing, roman catholic bones.

  57. Kevin_BGFH says

    @swtsrndr posted: “i absolutely agree that single people are often excluded in society because of their relationship status, however preventing other people from getting married is not the answer to remedying this problem. changing the ideas about what types of relationships are worthy of respect is the right direction for our society to head in, to increase respect and recognition of more diverse relationships and single persons.”

    Yes, I totally agree with you, and I hope my previous post isn’t misconstrued to suggest that I don’t believe in marriage equality. I guess the main point is that life will never be “fair” for anyone. There will always be differences based on socio-economic factors. But even if we can’t make things perfect, we should still continue to strive to make them better.

  58. Jane B says

    Ms. Stacey isn’t arguing against same-sex nuptials. She’s not simply being a radical feminist killjoy; she in fact praises the passage of same-sex marriage in New York as removing “indefensible” forms of discrimination against gays and lesbians. I think her argument is that equality may be more widely achieved by removing any privilege that the institution of marriage affords. Such a truly radical redefinition of the family would have far more impact on people of any color, gender, class or sexual orientation.

    With comments like “If you can’t afford a marriage license at city hall, then you obviously shouldn’t be getting married in the first place” (and thus not given access to the privileges gained by marriage) appearing in every other post on this site, one could argue the marriage equality movement is becoming more and more in danger of focusing only on the “marriage” component and not so much on the “equality.”

  59. says

    “Such a truly radical redefinition of the family would have far more impact on people of any color, gender, class or sexual orientation.”

    Would it? Perhaps, but that’s a very debatable point. Discrimination isn’t.

    Sorry, but theoretical radical redefinitions of family don’t really resonate with many gay citizens and couples who are deprived the same freedom to marry that millions and millions of straight couples take for granted. I suppose it’s nice that she’s not specifically arguing against equality for gay couples, but then the question is why raise the issue of marriage equality for gay couples at all, since that is clearly not her priority, except that it makes her anti-marriage essay more timely and publishable.

    Some of use resent being used as pawns for sociologists calling for the demolition of institutions we’re locked out of.

  60. BC says

    @ Jane B: I see only one such comment in the entire thread, so your conclusion might not be sound.

    Anyway, in fact Stacey is criticizing same-sex nuptials and nuptials generally. Specifically, she says “Same-sex marriage enthusiasts are wrong to celebrate the democratizing effects of their victory in New York,” and then even more cryptically “Same-sex marriage, like its heterosexual model, is disproportionately accessible to members of the white middle class.”

    What I and some others want to know is what exactly that means. I think she would be on much solider ground if she stuck with the argument you described.

  61. Sancho says

    This essay reminds me of one by Jonathan Rauch written 15 years ago – only, ironically, he lays out the question more clearly precisely because he’s arguing for SSM from a conservative perspective:

    “SO gay marriage makes sense for several of the same reasons that straight marriage makes sense. That would seem a natural place to stop. But the logic of the argument compels one to go a twist further. If it is good for society to have people attached, then it is not enough just to make marriage available. Marriage should also be expected. This, too, is just as true for homosexuals as for heterosexuals. So, if homosexuals are justified in expecting access to marriage, society is equally justified in expecting them to use it. . . . If gay marriage is recognized, single gay people over a certain age should not be surprised when they are disapproved of or pitied. That is a vital part of what makes marriage work. It’s stigma as social policy. If marriage is to work it cannot be merely a “lifestyle option.” It must be privileged. That is, it must be understood to be better, on average, than other ways of living.”

    I think Rauch is right that this will be one consequence of marriage equality. And I don’t approve of “stigma as social policy” and never will.

    (And while we’re on the subject, it’s no accident that the affluent white gay power-brokers decided to make marriage equality – rather than non-discrimination in housing and employment, for instance – the main agenda for the so-called “gay community.” Those rights should have been prioritized, because EVERYONE, single or partnered, needs to be free from being fired or evicted. Marriage equality only benefits people who want to get married, and the more affluent a couple is, the more they benefit. But I digress!)

    Rauch’s complete article can be read here:

  62. says

    @ KEN and a follow-up to SANCHO:

    People in good marriages TEND to be less likely to commit crime (, be happier, and physically healthier and live longer ( than their single counter-parts.

    Further, if children are involved, studies indicate that children do best in stable situations—which marriage tends to support. (

    And yes, in the black community, there real historical reasons for low marriage rates, most notably that in almost every recession, black men are the first laid off and their jobs disappeared. These men don’t feel able to marry without the ability to support their family. (I don’t necessarily agree with that, but it’s a real and serious issue. (

    All that said, there’s nothing wrong with being single if that’s what makes you happy and fulfilled. No one should tell you otherwise and just as you should stand up for being gay, you should stand up for being happy and fulfilled as a single person. Self determination!

  63. maxx40 says

    Only white middle class people can access the privilege to be “radical,” that is, disown rights, jobs, psychic income, and material well being on paper while they still enjoy them in their everyday lives.

    Bourgeois academics will never understand.

  64. caoimhin says

    Poor people don’t get married because their peers don’t care if they do or don’t. Middle class people get married because their peers judge them. The rich get married if they want to appeal to the middle class voter or ticket buyer, but really, they don’t care. This is certainly a view that has been endorsed by the Catholic Church since they did not recognize the marriage of poor people until the 10th century or so.

    Marriage is about love, but it is also about the farm. When you have some property to give, lend, avoid tax, or inherit, you get married.

  65. Akira says

    Stacey’s article disregards the whole point of the recent win in New York: that homosexual couples now have to opportunity and right to choose marriage.

    Having the right to same-sex marriage does not particularly pressure homosexuals to marry. Just like the right to bear arms doesn’t pressure people to possess handguns. This “heterosexual model,” that gay people are now supposedly being sucked into is imaginary. If anything, institutions like NOM don’t want homosexuals to join in on the institution of marriage.

    The beauty of having the right to marry is that two willing people are free to marry for whatever reason they choose.

    Also, conflating the issue of ethnic disparities within the institution of marriage with marriage equality is illogical.

  66. Brian says

    I think the author wishes to point out that marriage and all of its benefits rewards couples, leaving single persons in a lower class sometimes.

    To marry it does take a financial commitment, as well as a willing partner. For those who don’t have one of those, its harder. I feel privileged; I can’t really question the struggles of those with lower income.

  67. truthteller says

    As the ellipses in the middle of the article indicate, this article has been redacted to reflect the opinion of the poster. The full article is well thought out and logical. You may not like her conclusions but they are solid, in my opinion, and she does give links to books she has relied on.

    I happen to like marriage equality, don’t get me wrong, but to fail to consider its possible consequences as she does here, is foolish:
    “Marriage never has been or will be an equal-opportunity institution. As the legal scholars June Carbone and Naomi Kahn document in Red Families v. Blue Families, the marriage gap between rich and poor family regimes has been widening dangerously in recent decades. Marriage rates are higher and divorce rates lower in liberal Massachusetts than in conservative Mississippi. One might more accurately depict “blue” families as “white” and well-heeled.”

    This is key in understanding her statement about the effects of marriage in minorities.

    And this:
    “As the United States gradually makes the membership rules to marriage gender-inclusive, it risks deepening our sharp class and race disparities in marriage and family life…Instead we need to develop family policies that give greater recognition and resources to the growing array of families formed, as Nancy Polikoff titled her book, “Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage.”

    I think she is spot on!

  68. says

    Her body of work is much less simplistic than the shorter excerpt–she’s done valuable research into the value of diversity within families. However, I think it’s unfortunate that a broader discussion of such diversity gets lumped with the fight for marriage equality, because the partnership isn’t natural. The value and problems of marriage and the need for marriage equality are nearly separate issues, but the media will want to lump them thoughtlessly together.

  69. mark says

    There can be no doubt that the focus on marriage has already changed LGBT communities.

    It is difficult to imagine what the drive for marriage equality would look like if for example HIV never happened.

    Moving forward, if HIV should be cured in the next few years the resulting influx of sexual freedoms could also temper the ardor for marriage.

    Other things might change the level of LGBT enthusiasm for the institution.

    For example if you get the same deal as heterosexuals and every time your partner has sex outside of your marriage it costs you half your income that’s going to affect the enthusiasm for the institution among LGBTs.