Same-Sex Marriage in Historical and Transnational Perspective

AHA Session 61
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 2
Friday, January 7, 2011: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
Room 111 (Hynes Convention Center)
Kenneth Sherrill, Hunter College, City University of New York
Felicia A. Kornbluh, University of Vermont

Session Abstract

Marriage has long been considered one of the most sacred institutions in the West.  Administered by churches and governments, marriage is an important nexus upon which to consider the historical relationship of the sacred to the social.  Over the past few decades, debates over same-sex marriage have opened marriage up to the kind of scholarly analysis in which this panel participates.  Even as it is a largely personal relationship, marriage is subject to public expectations and political debate.

This panel explores contemporary debates over same-sex marriage in three very different historical and national contexts.  One paper examines the recent history of queer marriage practices to argue that same sex celebrations and ceremonies have been neither conservative nor conformist, but rather have offered couples opportunities to express a variety of political motivations that have transcended "difference vs. accommodation" debates.   A second paper examines the recent history of same-sex marriage legislation in Scandinavia.  This paper argues that in Scandinavia, gender-neutral legislation has replaced domestic partnerships, and lifelong fidelity between any two persons has come to define marriage.  A third paper examines the LDS Church's recent opposition to same-sex marriage in California in light of the national controversy over the LDS church's nineteenth-century practice of plural marriage.  This paper situates both debates in the context of an American historical legacy that has excluded non-normative sexualities from full citizenship.  Taken together, these papers explore the complex relationships between sexuality and the politics of marriage in the West, examining how non-normative sexualities not only challenge marital norms but the contours of citizenship.  Political activism for and against same-sex marriage has tugged at the fabric of marriage and its relationship to church, citizenship, and society in Scandinavian and American contexts.

Each paper engages the theme, "History, Society, and the Sacred," in its own way.  One paper shows that, following legislative changes in Scandinavia, the State Churches of Norway and Sweden have accepted same-sex weddings.  Another renders the LDS Church's opposition to same-sex marriage a historical irony, given its history of non-normative marriage, while the third shows the various ways queer weddings have engaged the religions and faiths of their participants.  This session will draw a broad audience from historians interested in the history of marriage, same-sex sexualities, contemporary debates over same-sex marriage, and gender and sexuality.

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