Rachel Maddow on Marriage’s Threat to Gay Culture

The inimitable Rachel Maddow gets a cover story in the Hollywood Reporter in which she discusses a variety of topics, including marriage. She's not ready for it quite yet:

Maddow Maddow keeps an apartment in Manhattan, but she decamps to the solitude of Northampton, Mass. on weekends, where she lives with her girlfriend of 12 years, artist Susan Mikula, and Poppy, their black Labrador. The couple met in 1999 when Mikula hired Maddow to dig tree stumps out of her front yard. "It was love at first sight," says Maddow.

Gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in 2004, but Maddow says she and Mikula have no immediate wedding plans. "We know a lot of people who have gotten married but I don't think we feel any urgency about it."

Later she admits that she's actually ambivalent about the cultural impact of gay marriage.

"I feel that gay people not being able to get married for generations, forever, meant that we came up with alternative ways of recognizing relationships," she explains. "And I worry that if everybody has access to the same institutions that we lose the creativity of subcultures having to make it on their own. And I like gay culture."

Maddow also talks about meeting Sarah Palin, and what about the meeting made her think Palin could be insightful.

Rachel Maddow: How This Wonky-Tonk Woman Won TV [hollywood reporter]


  1. says

    I have a huge amount of admiration for Rachel Maddow, and I think her points about the uniqueness of Gay culture are worthwhile. But the fact remains that there is simply no ethical nor constitutional justification for denying law-abiding, taxpaying Gay couples the same legal benefits and protections that Straight couples have always taken for granted.

  2. Pete n SFO says

    a clumsy comment…

    She’s not wrong; the fact that we typically have to establish roles individually in relationships is true… BUT, she should make clear that everyone deserves equality under law.

    We all know that she believes that, but comments out of context make PR trouble.

    Personally, I think she’s afraid of the Pre-nup.

  3. says

    Good call Rachel. Why fight to be accepted as part of mainstream life when you can opt to be a ostracized subculture! What an inspiration. And what the hell is “gay culture” anyway?

  4. mb says

    She didn’t say we shouldn’t have marriage equality…anyone that watches her show would know she’s clearly in favor. I think it’s just a valid comment on how our culture is and how it will probably evolve, but one that can be easily taken out of context.

  5. David in NYC says

    get here outta here… seriously, rachel maddow is the WORST…

    it’s all about erin burnett these days…

  6. Gregv says

    I wonder if her comment was quoted out-of-context and if she will be clarifying a crucial part that was left out of it.
    If not, this was uncharacteristically poorly-thought-out for the usually smart-as-a-whip Maddow.
    It would be a bit like a black person lamenting the fact that blacks are no longer struggling to vote or sit down in a bus, and adding that the centuries of hardship led to such wonderful, soulful songs of struggle.
    I love many aspects of gay culture too, and hope that we will continue to positively re-invent our institutions and neighborhoods in future decades, with the benefit of being considered equal citizens to add a new level of vibrancy and a more uniformly-positive outlook.

  7. Rowan says



    Black struggle may have given us the wonder of Nina Simone music and wonderful Toni Morrison novels but that doesn’t mean I want to continue to be ignored for promotions at work!

    Re gay, her comment is very typical of wealthy gays-right or left, who have either lived a life of privilege or are living a life of privilege. These gays also tend to live on the east or west coast and if not, in pretty liberal cities, so they have absolutely no clue as to how hard it is to be gay in a poor household or hostile cultural environment.

    These people need these rights more then any gays because they constantly face discrimination and usually have a family to feed.

  8. SPOT says

    This is kind of like when people who never lived there during the “olden days” pine about how gentrification has “runined” Times Square in NY.

    Another spoiled brat rich enough to protect herself, pining about how a subculture she never really had to worry about belonging to is changing.

  9. Paul says

    Worried about the cultural impact of gay marriage? Yeah right, Rachel.
    Just another wealthy gay person worried about the financial impact of divorce.
    It’s not about culture, it’s about love and commitment.

  10. Homo Genius says

    Cant say I agree with Rachel.

    Basically the options I was given as a young gay growing up where I could have an endless series of anonymous hookups or be a lonely “confirmed bachelor”.

    Even the terms for your significant other were dismal. No one was your spouse or partner but instead your “lover”. which implies simply your current sex partner.

    Im not a fan of marriage per se or the tight boundries of conventional relationships. I just wonder who my life might have played out if some of my options were a long term committed relationship.

    I think the next generation of gays will have significantly different attitudes. And be free of the “trick” and cruising culture so popular with the Boomers

  11. tranquilo says

    Calm down. She’s not saying she’s against marriage equality. She’s just saying that the picket fence isn’t for her.

  12. legal issues aside says

    I suspect marriage is on the way out. Just when gays are allowed to do it no one will want to.

    If people are really free (especially financially) they would simply be with whoever they wanted to be with for as long as both wanted that.

    Even now many gay couples pair off for life, basically living as though married, without any labels. And most married people get divorced, often more than once. So in a practical sense it’s all the same thing.

  13. says

    In a practical sense, marriage between Gay and Straight couples is NOT the same thing. It won’t be until there’s parity under the law.

    It never ceases to amaze me, how some of the most intelligent Gay people will descend into radical Left Wing idiocy whenever the topic of equality is raised. I’m beginning to understand that heterosexist attitudes aren’t dependent on sexual orientation or political affiliation.

  14. says

    What she completely ignores is that the law, without legal marriage, continues to harm people. Perhaps it will take her death, for her partner to discover how she will have their joint possessions taxed in ways that straight couples would never experience. With a dog they don’t really worry much about the two of them having joint custody, but with kids it is different. And in some states, without marriage that would be a problem.

    Her partner is not foreign born either, so she doesn’t have to worry about that. Her remarks may be true for her but they are most certainly untrue for lots of people. And legalizing gay marriage won’t force her into marriage, but it does give that option to others, and those others may very badly need that option, something she is neglecting.

  15. gomez says

    @legal issues aside (how apt)

    in a practical sense, we don’t have the same rights and protections as heterosexuals

    also in a practical sense, you’re a fool

  16. major707 says

    I am retired military and draw a nice pension, but currently my spouse cannot inherit my pension…..if there was marriage equality my family would be protected. It may not be for everyone and that is your choice but right now none of us has that choice.

  17. BobN says

    People are so strange.

    There’s nothing complicated about this. She supports a right but chooses not to exercise it.

    I support freedom of religion but you won’t ever find me in a church.

  18. jamal49 says

    I agree with you, Rachel. And, of course, most of the posters here missed your point.

    Yes, civil equality is the LGBT community’s birthright, which also means the right to civil marriage. But, if anyone here is old enough to remember, the Gay Liberation movement was about LGBT people being free to pursue their consensual relationships without having to compromise the values, the culture and relationships that gays and lesbians had carved out for themselves in spite of an extremely oppressive society and its laws.

    I’m all for marriage equality, mind you, but, in our rush to assimilate into the culture and society at large, we should not forget that once we celebrated our differences from “straight” society.

    Our liberation has liberated many non-LGBT people, too and gave examples of relationships working outside the straight-jacket of “normal” (i.e. “acceptable”) relationships.

    Marriage is NOT the be-all and end-all for every gay or lesbian or even for every straight person. It’s nice that so many want to get married, but for a long period, the ideal of Gay Liberation rightfully had a very skeptical attitude toward “straight” society’s insistence that the only valid relationships were “married” relationships.

    That simply is not true and probably a prime example of the heterosexual majority once again diluting what once was our vibrant and truly alternative culture that allowed for relationships that did not conform to the norm.

    So, back off, all you conformist, marriage-obsessed homos. Rachel has a good point and is right to question whether civil marriage is right for her.

    Now that every LGBT is rushing to get married, I can’t wait to see in about two-three years all the ads in Next Magazine placed by attorneys “specializing in gay divorces”.

    Marriage is a wonderful thing but it is a tremendous responsibility and commitment. It may not be for everyone and it shouldn’t have to be for everyone.

  19. lewlew says

    I’m with you, Rachel. We must have this right, and then we should ignore it. No sarcasm.

  20. Nat says

    A woman I work with, a physical scientist, once commented to me that the worst racism she experienced was from other blacks within her old neighbourhood – they viewed her career interests and personal success as a ‘betrayal’ of black cultural values. So what should have been viewed as a positive development is treated as being conformist to ‘white’ culture.

    I think of the lessons in that story whenever I encounter people ranting about conformity, monogamy, or gay ‘culture’. And I’ve realized that just as heterosexuals were long obsessed with telling us how to live, there was always a lingering mentality amongst gays on what constituted ‘authentic’ homosexuality. And cheerleading that mentality are people like Maddow, and people who have had personal success from overall social marginalization.

    There are many gays, I think, who are afraid of change. They want things to go back to the way they were – they want marginalization to continue, and they want others to think and act the same way. This is the danger found in collectivism and – the instinctive desire to impose one set of beliefs on every individual.

    Well, I have no interest in conforming to an ‘alternative’ culture anymore than I have an interest in conforming to a dominant one. I and I alone dictate how I want to live my life, and anyone who dares to question the legitimacy of my choices is simply demonstrating their own lack of individual identity.

  21. says

    “Our liberation has liberated many non-LGBT people, too and gave examples of relationships working outside the straight-jacket of “normal” (i.e. “acceptable”) relationships.

    Marriage is NOT the be-all and end-all for every gay or lesbian or even for every straight person. It’s nice that so many want to get married, but for a long period, the ideal of Gay Liberation rightfully had a very skeptical attitude toward “straight” society’s insistence that the only valid relationships were “married” relationships.”

    @Jamal49 In my view you hit the nail right on the head. That is exactly how I feel and why I agree with what Rachel said in the interview.

  22. Paul R says

    I obviously support marriage equality, but I’m equally ambivalent about actually getting married. Going through the protracted breakup of a very long-term relationship was tough enough without the acrimony and costs of divorce. And let’s face it, a wedding can be lovely, but many couples—gay or straight—don’t stay together forever.

    Again, I absolutely think that gays and lesbians should be able to marry. But for some of us, it’s not a move that’s pressing or necessary.

    My views may be conditioned by the fact that I’m a lifelong atheist, and while I realize that marriage is a civil affair, it’s difficult to fully remove its association with religion. You can pretend otherwise, but the vast majority of weddings are presided over by a religious figure. But these are simply my views, and I don’t judge or debase those who feel otherwise. Indeed, in some ways I’m envious. But seeing 17 years with someone end has likely made me dubious about long-term relationships.

  23. Lazlo says

    I wish more of the article would have been on her thoughts concerning marriage. I don’t see marriage bringing a big change to gay culture. We still have tons of cruising (the invention of Grindr for heavens sake, lol), open relationships, and subcultures despite the advancing rainbow of marriage equality. What’s changed? I think people just want more protections and equal treatment for their families. If they can get that through civil unions or whatever I’m sure they would be for it. No one is forcing anyone to get married, it’s about choice and equal treatment/protection under the law. I don’t see how that’s something to be indifferent about.

  24. whatsmyparty says

    Surely, had her stump digger been on a temporary work visa and in need of US sponsorship, she’d be at the front of the ‘End-DOMA-full-marriage’ line and the need for the subculture to thrive at the back of her mind. Though, then again, when you have the half a million dollars to invest in a green card for your partner, maybe not.

  25. Emma Peel says

    Isn’t that the point? That access to the institution of marriage is what provides access to a variety of benefits ranging from immigration to health care and that those who are not a part of that institution by choice or by chance have been shut out of those benefits. Marriage equality may open up rights to more individuals but is certainly not universally liberating if people have to participate in the institution in order to get those rights. It does nothing about the stigmatization and marginalization of those who fall outside of the new boundaries of normal.

  26. Rin says

    Prior to the income tax people just used wills to do everything that “marriage laws” do now.

    The laws that supposedly benefit marriage just give back a portion that was ill-gotten, anyway.

    If we went to a sales tax or flat tax with no deductions and let everyone make a will this would also be a non-issue. People could marry whomever they wanted, leave money to whomever they wanted and it would be a true, equal tax.

    Not that this has anything to do with Rachel Maddow, but I’m seeing more and more how our stupid tax code has created social problems and social justice issues.

  27. MaddM@ says

    She has a point- no one ever talks about the inherent homophobia in thinking we can never be proper people until we’ve re-created heterosexual society for our own. Waiting now for the comments about how gay pride parades denigrate us and how we need to be sanitized for heterosexual approval in 5..4..3….

  28. Jeanne says

    My Partner (of 32 or 33 years) were first married when Gavin Newsome took a stand for gay marriage in 2004. That was a stand for the rights that were denied us. We married again in 2008, within the window of opportunity before Prop 8 was passed. I must say though that there is something to what Rachel is saying. I feel that we might all, homo and hetero sexuals, benefit more from good common law marriage laws. Marriage itself is an artifice derives from chauvinist policies. And marrying under heterosexual laws is confusing and cumbersome. We could not decide who was the bride or who was the groom, so we just called each other brooms. We still can’t decide what our last name is so we each retain our own. In many ways love can’t be legislated. And I really love some outlaws. And was not welcomed by inlaws.

  29. says

    Equality _under the law_ is what matters. For most of us, the right to form Civil Unions – and not necessarily a marriage is what matters. The latter is more of a Social and Religious construct. Maybe Mainstreaming is inevitble, but I too feel we’re losing something in the processess of being ‘just like them’.