Nearly two years before the United States Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional to withhold marriage rights from same-sex couples in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Parliament of the United Kingdom granted same-sex marriage rights in the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013. The two developments were unique in their constitutional beginnings yet both are driven by the same motivation; the perceived equality of the homo- and heterosexual and their deserving of legal relationship recognition. Many have argued that same-sex marriage has the intrinsic potential to threaten heteronormative discourses (Boellstorf, 2007), however others claim it to be a political sedative (Duggan, 2002; 191) that is detrimental to gay liberation and reinforces normative sex and gender roles (Jagose, 1996). This research will investigate both of these claims.
As a PhD candidate studying the British same-sex marriage legislation, I investigate the legislation’s capacity for the socio-legal construction of the homonormative (Duggan, 2002) and homoradical identities using queer theory in order to critique the normative construction of “equal” marriage. This critique states that marriage does little to further the cause of true equality and acceptance for queer identities and those who do not adhere to the normative structures of monogamy, domesticity, and the privileged couple, regulating and criminalizing those who do not marry (Warner, 2000). My thesis investigates the emergence and effect of the ‘homonormative’ and ‘homoradical’ socio-legal identities as a result of the legislation. These identities are constructed and scrutinized in the wake of the Act, with attention paid to the legal implications of the law upon the perceptions and experiences of the LGBTQ community.
My empirical, socio-legal study employs qualitative research focusing on the lived experiences and legal perspectives of self-identified homosexual individuals (Weeks, 2001; 457, Warner, 2004: 335). This study will call for those who are or have been in a same-sex marriage (those who can be typically identified as being ‘homonormative’) and those who fall within the ‘homoradical’, an unexplored identity of those who do not adhere to the familial structures available through same-sex marriage legislation, or those who actively oppose such legislation. This will allow for a comparative assessment of the ways in which the law affects sexual identity through the concomitant emergence of these distinct socio-legal identities. The study is based on a methodology that employs semi-structured interviews with members of the LGBTQ public to assess their identification with the homonormative or homoradical. Along with employing visual aids, behavioral and opinion questioning on their understandings of their sexuality, and the law, this will benefit contemporary understandings of gender roles within same-sex marriage, providing interpretive evidence to support claims (Frey, 2004) regarding the impact of law.
The construction of the two socio-legal homonormative and homoradical identities forms the key aspect of my research. This also forms a large part of the discussion of this presentation through the implication of Rubin’s charmed circle (1984) and the ways in which law divides the good gay and the bad queer, primarily divisive on notions of sexual practice. This research will then develop Rubin’s theory beyond the binaristic circle with the development of same-sex marriage, with the legal and societal changes of LGBTQ acceptance mapping a largely different charmed circle, of which my research and data collected from participants, will explain. The homoradical and homonormative are largely seen as two binaries; however, this research will show that in reality, there is fluidity between the two binaries, due to contemporary homosexual attitudes to sex and the developing nature of same-sex marriage. This fluidity will also be explored, utilizing the transgressive potential of queer theory as a mechanism for breaking the boundaries of heteronormative culture (Stein & Plummer, 1996; 134) My definition of homonormativity rests on Duggan’s (2002) stipulation that the homonormative is constructed as a depoliticized, demobilized, and domesticated gay identity, sedated by the allowance of marriage. The homoradical, therefore, acts the queer opponent to such an ‘acceptable gay’ Identity (Robinson, 2012; 328).
This academic presentation will therefore provide an extra-jurisdictional international perspective on the construction of same-sex marriage and its shortfalls. This will comparatively assess the “equal” marriage in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland. The presentation will draw on research conducted in pilot studies, providing a legal perspective on the sociological issues presented. This will include discussion of the development of a queer legal theory and how this may be practically applicable, along with queer methodologies and representation of data collected. Discussion of the effects of burgeoning social acceptance and the polarization of the LGBT in an era when same-sex marriage is legal will be a key point of discussion. Plummer (1996) has stated that increased social acceptance may lead to the decreasing exclusivity of sexuality and the simultaneous occupying of both the hetero- and homosexual worlds, indicative of growing homonormativity.
This will be a key point of reference within this research. This will then include discussion of how the construction of the homonormative may differ between the USA and UK in its legal construction, noting the difference between a constitutional system, and a legislative system (Mello, 2014).
This presentation will contribute to the CLAGS After Marriage conference by providing an international legal perspective that deals with the emergent equal marriage status across both sides of the Atlantic. My study is distinctive through the exploration of the homoradical identity that exists parallel to the homonormative, and their interaction with law and society. This will be explored and analyzed within the new legal context of same-sex marriage. This will complement discussion of queer legal theory and its application to developing LGBTQ politics around the world and whether it is true that ‘we have to be political in order to be prepolitical’ (Sullivan, 1995; 187). Examination of this will benefit LGBTQ politics and act as a point to develop the #morethanmarriage campaign.