Academic journal article Family Relations

Same-Sex Relationships and Dissolution: The Connection between Heteronormativity and Homonormativity

Academic journal article Family Relations

Same-Sex Relationships and Dissolution: The Connection between Heteronormativity and Homonormativity

Article excerpt

A queer feminist lens is used to present a selected review of the demographic and descriptive literature related to how same-sex couples in the United States begin and dissolve relationships. We argue that despite research suggesting a uniformity of same-sex coupling that reflects a heteronormative nuclear family, there is actually great diversity in same-sex relationships. As legal recognition of same-sex couples increases from state to state, however, the dissolution of same-sex relationships has become as challenging as legally establishing them. This review explores several current cases representing the difficulties experienced by couples who marry or have a civil union in states requiring residency prior to dissolution and try to dissolve a relationship when they reside in a state that does not recognize same-sex unions.

Key Words: dissolution, feminist theory, heteronormativity, policy, queer theory, same-sex couples.

In the past two decades there has been a marked increase in the study of the family relationships of same-sex couples (Biblarz & Savci, 2010; Patterson, 2000). One line of research has focused on comparing relationship processes (e.g., Kurdek, 2004, 2006) and examining parenting and child outcomes between gay, lesbian, and heterosexual couples (e.g., Patterson, Sutfin, & Fulcher, 2004). This research has demonstrated considerable similarity across most areas of family functioning between groups. For example, Kurdek (2006) generally found minor differences in effect sizes between groups; that is, predictors and processes of commitment, stability, and relationship quality were comparable between gay, lesbian, and heterosexual couples with or without children. Similar findings have been reported by researchers using observational techniques (e.g., Gottman et al., 2003; Julien, Chartrand, Simard, Bouthillier, & Begin, 2003). The underlying assumption of this comparative research, however, is that gay families are all generally the same (cf. Lewis, Derlega, Berndt, Morris, & Rose, 200 1 ). This assumption not only masks the complexity and diversity of same-sex families, but it also limits our understanding of their unique experiences and needs, including our understanding of experiences not considered ideal from a heteronormative standpoint, such as nonmonogamy.

A second line of research has focused on perpetuating the notion that same-sex families possess heightened harmony and adaptiveness, an ideological type similar to the nostalgic first marriage nuclear heterosexual family (Malone & Cleary, 2002). Strategically, these studies are important and needed, as they have proved useful in advancing law (e.g., same-sex marriage) and policy (e.g., partner medical coverage options in the workplace) that support gay and lesbian-headed families (Brower, 2009; Stacey & Biblarz, 2001).

The reasons for these two approaches to the study of same-sex couples and families are understandable. We assert, however, that the insights gleaned from the family lives of gays and lesbians and the policy advances garnered using these two lines of research also create bias (Oswald, Blume, & Marks, 2005; Stacey & Biblarz, 2001) by implying that same-sex families are situated within heteronormativity, an ideology used to promote the normality of the traditional heterosexual marriage in the larger U.S. culture through law, policy, and enactment (Duggan, 2003). This ideology demands the acceptance and internalization of heteronormative ideals to create families within the gay and lesbian community and represents what is called homonormativity, or the assimilation of heteronormative structures, such as the nuclear family, into the relationships of lesbians and gay men (Duggan, 2003). By positioning gay and lesbian couples and families as just like heterosexual couples and families, the ways in which these couples may have experiences different than those of heterosexual couples are made invisible and unexamined. …

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