Chances are, you remember the flurry of news coverage about San Francisco’s 2004 same-sex weddings, in which over 4,000 same-sex couples wed. In news images, throngs of men and women lined up outside city hall. Jubilant couples radiated with anticipation of becoming legally wed. Brides posed with San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. Soon, protests for the legalization of same-sex marriage emerged across California and the United States. The excitement was palpable and change was in the air. But, if you were like many people, you may have wondered: Are the same-sex couples who are so passionately fighting to get married motivated by love and devotion to their partners? Is it as an act of protest to gain the rights and privileges bestowed upon different-sex couples? Or, does same-sex marriage uphold heteronormativity or challenge it?
These are the questions that drive Katrina Kimport’s new book Queering Marriage: Challenging Family Formation in the United States (Rutgers University Press, 2014). Kimport uses in-depth interviews with participants in the 2004 San Francisco wedding protests to examine the meanings and consequences of same-sex marriage. Queering Marriage powerfully demonstrates the varied motivations for participating in protest. By unraveling the complexities surrounding the changing nature of marriage, Kimport demonstrates how same-sex marriage both contests and upholds heteronormativity.
Kimport’s findings may surprise you—and perhaps change how you think of social movement participation. Integrating rich narratives of same-sex spouses with theoretical insight, Kimport compellingly demonstrates the complexities and nuances of same-sex marriage. For example, most couples said that they were motivated to marry because of the possibility to disrupt heteronormativity—an act of protest. At the same time, however, almost as many couples said that they wanted to marry because of legal rights and “cultural legitimacy.” Put simply, the couples wanted the benefits of the institution that they also sought to challenge. Kimport also found that lesbian parents were most likely to adhere to legal and cultural meanings of marriage, while child-free couples were most likely to view their marriages as an act of civil disobedience. The legality of same-sex marriage is hotly contested and frequently changing, but the analysis in Queering Marriage tells the reader a lot about the motivation for protest participation, the institution of marriage, and heterosexuality/queerness.
Kimport, an assistant professor at the University of California-San Francisco, co-authored an award winning 2009 American Sociological Review article, “Culture and Mobilization: Tactical Repertoires, Same-Sex Weddings, and Gay Activism,” with Verta Taylor, Nella Van Dyke, and Ellen Ann Andersen. In it, Kimport and her collaborators compellingly argue that cultural tactics such as the same-sex wedding protests have significant consequences for political change. Also, Kimport and co-author Jennifer Earl wrote Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age (MIT Press, 2011).