This book analyses younger same-sex partners’ accounts of their formalised relationships. It considers couple and individual narratives of being formally partnered or ‘married’, and situates these with respect to partners’ relational biographies, the meaning and practices they attach to money and finances, sexual and intimate commitments and to being coupled. These are important new stories because they were told by people who in many cases have grown up with the relative visibility of diverse sexual identities, who will have more or less full access to the kind of sexual and relational citizenship that marriage affords for most of their adult lives, and who have a strong sense of the ordinariness of same-sex relationships. In this sense, they indicate some of the possibilities for same-sex relationships after sexual and relational citizenship has been recognised through marriage or marriage-like arrangements. But they also provide insights into the broader question about what contemporary relationships, and marriage in its increasingly more open form, mean today.
On the one hand, these stories suggest that same-sex marriage potentially troubles the assumptions about natural gender differences that underpinned the modern institution of marriage. Historically, such assumptions have been central to shaping gender practices and inequalities. On the other hand, the stories suggest that same-sex marriage potentially reinforces assumptions about the naturalness of couple-centred relationships, families and kinship. Such assumptions shore up a couple – centred relational panorama whereby more radical relational experiments are potentially made invisible. On the surface, the mainstreaming of same-sex couples through marriage-like arrangements seems to signal that marriage as an institution has become more democratic, and this fits well with popular assumptions about the inherently progressive nature of social developments with respect to gender and sexuality.
Indeed, notable findings from our research include the common belief among younger same-sex partners that gender and sexual inequalities in relationships have largely been overcome, and that couple-centred life remains the obvious and natural answer to life-political questions about how to live and relate. These beliefs partly influenced many partners’ claims to have ‘ordinary’ marriages, which in turn were grounded in a conviction that contemporary heterosexual and same – sex relationships were much the same. This is linked to a conviction that heterosexual and same-sex relationships are now equal in the eyes of the law, and are generally accepted as on a par with each other in day-to-day life. It is also linked to the strong sense that active commitments are more important than gender and sexuality in the making of ‘good’ relationships and marriages. Such beliefs and claims were thought to be evidenced by real changes that had taken place with respect to sexuality in law and in everyday life, which enabled younger same-sex couples to live their lives relatively free from the constraints encountered by previous generations. While previous generations of feminist and lesbian and gay liberationists linked the cultural privileging of the couple and marriage to constraining power, the tendency among our younger same-sex partners was to link their personal privileging of the couple and marriage to the historically increased quanta of power that sexual minorities have over their ordinary lives. At the same time, their beliefs that their relationships were more similar to, rather than different from, their heterosexual generational peers were grounded in a conviction that the latter tended to be less ‘traditional’ and more equal relationships than was the case for their parents’ generation. This implied that gender was nowadays relatively insignificant in shaping heterosexual relationships and marriages. This is the imagined social world that many younger same-sex partners invoke in telling their stories of their ‘ordinary’ relationships.