One Marriage under God: The Campaign to Promote Marriage in America

One Marriage under God: The Campaign to Promote Marriage in America

One Marriage under God: The Campaign to Promote Marriage in America

One Marriage under God: The Campaign to Promote Marriage in America


The meaning and significance of the institution of marriage has engendered angry and boisterous battles across the United States. While the efforts of lesbians and gay men to make marriage accessible to same-sex couples have seen increasing success, these initiatives have sparked a backlash as campaigns are waged to "protect" heterosexual marriage in America. Less in the public eye is government legislation that embraces the idea of marriage promotion as a necessary societal good.

In this timely and extensive study of marriage politics, Melanie Heath uncovers broad cultural anxieties that fuel on-the-ground practices to reinforce a boundary of heterosexual marriage, questioning why marriage has become an issue of pervasive national preoccupation and anxiety, and explores the impact of policies that seek to reinstitutionalize heterosexual marriage in American society. From marriage workshops for the general public to relationship classes for welfare recipients to marriage education in high school classrooms, One Marriage Under God documents in meticulous detail the inner workings of ideologies of gender and heterosexuality in the practice of marriage promotion to fortify a concept of "one marriage," an Anglo-American ideal of Christian, heterosexual monogamy.


During the process of writing and discussing the research for this book, people have often assumed that I chose to study marriage promotion in Oklahoma because it is the state where I was born and raised. Having spent most of my life in California, I found myself bristling at the suggestion. No, I would explain, I did research in Oklahoma because it has a pioneer statewide program to promote marriage. Later, I would wonder why the defensive reaction? Besides the obvious differences between California and Oklahoma—blue versus red state, liberal versus conservative, the coast versus the heartland—I recognized a deeper ambivalence about the strong connection I felt during my time there.

Growing up in a middle- to upper-middle-class, predominantly white community on the central coast of California, I knew from a young age that my family was different from most of my friends, neighbors, and classmates. Although also white, we had a lot less money than those around us. More than this, though, was my family’s religious conservatism. I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian environment and attended a Christian school for junior high and part of high school that mandated a pledge to the Christian flag and the American flag every morning. We attended the most conservative Baptist church in the area three times a week. My mother taught a weekly Bible class to the neighborhood children in our home, and, as part of a campaign to get out the good news, we went door to door handing out pamphlets and talking to neighbors about how to be “born again.” I often was an outsider because most of my friends and schoolmates were not religious or conservative. Reflecting on this history, I realized that if I had been born in Oklahoma, religious conservatism would not have been an issue.

For me, much has changed since my childhood upbringing. Even from a young age, I had questioned the moral and theological worldview I was immersed in. After renewing my commitment to being born again in high school (I was born again as a very young child but wandered from the more righteous path in my early teens), I spent two years at Biola, a Christian . . .

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