A Phenomenological Investigation of Same-Sex Marriage

By Alderson, Kevin G. | The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

A Phenomenological Investigation of Same-Sex Marriage


Alderson, Kevin G., The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality


ABSTRACT: Same-sex marriage was first legalized in the Netherlands in 2001, and now court rulings have legalized it in certain regions of Canada and the United States. What is the experience of gay and lesbian individuals who have married? This phenomenological study is based on interviews with 43 individuals, representing 22 married or soon-to-be-married couples living on three continents. The fight for same-sex marriage is about honouring the feelings that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) individuals have for their partners, and it also highlights the continuing struggle experienced by LGBT persons who demand equal rights, both legally and psychosocially. Same-sex marriage is here to stay, and increasing our understanding of this phenomenon is an important new area of social science research.

Key words: Same-sex marriage Homosexual relationships Male homosexuality Female homosexuality Phenomenology

INTRODUCTION

Love and romance, intimacy, and lifelong vows of commitment and partnership could never be part of homosexuality, it was mistakenly believed. Now a generation of people in many countries, making their lives together as partners in life, have proved this bias to be wrong. This false conception of homosexuality in the past reduced the whole person and his or her goals and aspirations to nothing more than sex, denying all of the full and loving person as well as his or her creativity, civility, and spirituality (Herdt, 1997, p. 178).

The legalization of same-sex marriage is a recent societal development that is considered highly controversial by many heterosexual and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) individuals alike (Yep, Lovaas, & Elia, 2003). Polls taken in Canada have shown its residents to be nearly 50 percent in favour of legalized same-sex marriage (Mofina, 2003), while a recent American poll conducted by ABC News has suggested less support for its legalization in the U.S. (i.e., 55 percent against) (Sussman, 2004). Within the LGBT community, those who support the institution of marriage for same-sex couples are referred to as having an assimilationist position, while those who oppose it are said to subscribe to a radical position (Yep et al., 2003).

Regardless of one's views on the subject, "Queer marriage has come to Canada to stay" (Lahey & Alderson, 2004, p. 99). On December 9, 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that same-sex marriage is in accord with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the legal document that protects human rights for all Canadians. As marriage in Canada falls under federal jurisdiction (Lahey & Alderson, 2004), anticipated legislation from Parliament will have an important impact on whether the precedents on same-sex marriage already set by six provinces and one territory in Canada (Table 1) will be affirmed nationally.

The situation in the United States is more complicated. The status of same-sex marriage there will require legal reform to both state and national laws and constitutions. Consequently, the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the U.S. will require a much longer process. Nonetheless, the U.S. has become the fourth country on earth, albeit only within the state of Massachusetts, to legalize same-sex marriage. The full chronology of legal same-sex marriage to date is shown in Table 1.

Given the recency of these legal reforms, little is known about same-sex couples who choose to marry. Solomon, Rothblum, and Balsam's (2004) work is one of the first quantitative studies to compare gay and lesbian individuals (n = 212 women, 193 men) who have had civil unions--a state recognized same-sex contract similar to marriage--in Vermont during the first year they became available there (i.e., 2000) with both heterosexuals and other gays and lesbians. One comparison group consisted of 166 lesbians and 72 gay men who were part of their friendship circles who had not chosen to have a civil union. …

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