While debates about marriage equality have garnered mainstream media and public attention, controversy about and resistance against same-sex marriage played out not only outside LGBT communities but within it as well.
LGBT opponents to same-sex marriage have historically argued against it due to concerns or fears of assimilation and heteronormativity, or heterosexual standards as the norm, being imposed upon queer relationships, which could lead to the marginalization of various individuals or relationships within LGBT communities.
While studies in the past have examined the impact of the absence of the option to get married, a new study from UBC takes a look at what impact this now-available option has had on Canadian same-sex couples who choose not to marry. (The Civil Marriage Act made same-sex marriage legal in Canada in 2005.)
UBC sociology researchers Katherine A. Lyon and Hélène Frohard-Dourlent co-authored the study " 'Let's Talk about the Institution': Same-Sex Common-Law Partners Negotiating Marriage Equality and Relationship Legitimacy", published in the November 2015 edition of The Canadian Review of Sociology.
Because opposite-sex marriage is still a "major force that organizes social life" and the majority of heterosexual couples regard marriage as "the ultimate form of commitment", the researchers explain that "marriage and its associated ideals are an integral part of the heterosexist authoritative discourses that same-sex couples must contend with".
Consequently, same-sex couples now have the opportunity to be included in an institution they were previously excluded from, which gives LGBT couples a different perspective on marriage, particularly for those who felt they had to give up heterosexual-based life goals, from opposite-sex ones.
The researchers conducted interviews with 22 people in same-sex couples in Toronto, which consisted of 12 women and 10 men.
A recurring theme within the interviews was how married couples are perceived as more legitimate than common-law couples. Some interviewees expressed the desire to marry as a means of countering the heterosexist assumption that same-sex couples are less legitimate than opposite-sex ones.
Another theme was experiencing social pressure to marry from family and friends, or even from a partner.
Interestingly, the researchers discovered that participants were reluctant to take a firm stance against marriage. The study authors explain that opposition within LGBT communities to marriage equality has become increasingly difficult to express, as the debate has gone mainstream. They explain that these perspectives could potentially support or be misinterpreted as heterosexist and homophobic arguments against marriage equality.
At the same time, many participants expressed contradictory opinions about marriage, including perceiving marriage as the most serious form of commitment yet also arguing that other forms of commitment could be as enduring and solid.
The subject of children was the main source of contradiction, an issue often brought up by participants as a reason to determine whether to remain common-law or to get married. Female interviewees noted the social and relationship impact of marriage upon children while male interviewees focused on the legal advantages of marriage for parenting. Many participants expressed conflict between social versus legal benefits of marriage when it came to child-rearing and adoption.
What's particularly interesting to note is that the choice to marry was often spoken of in emotional terms. In comparison, participants expressed their decision not to marry for political reasons.
"Marriage was often constructed as a romantic act while its rejection was framed as a political act," the study states.
As a result, participants felt that marriage was not an established life stage but a complicated one they had to carefully consider from numerous social, political, and emotional angles.
The results of the study indicate that participants perceived marriage now to be the norm for relationships.
The researchers suggest that personal reasons for relationship choices permitted them to sidestep a critique of marriage, and all of these views, expressed amid the current state of marriage equality, may result in an impact on queer activism in the future.