Exploring the knot: Interviews with Oregon's first married same-sex couples

Anne W. Clark (2007)

On March 3, 2004, United States history was made when same-sex couples were granted the legal right to marry in Multnomah County, Oregon. In April 2005 the marriages were invalidated after Measure 36, a statewide ballot initiative passed. Legal marriage for same-sex couples is bound to a history of discrimination and oppression of gays and lesbians. This dissertation presents findings from a study of same-sex marriage and has addressed the influence of a long history of legalized discrimination and oppression of lesbians and gay men. This author embarked on one of the first qualitative research studies of the first legally married same-sex couples in the United States in order to illuminate the complexity of their experiences located squarely between the personal and the political 1 . Using a combination of an emancipatory paradigm and interpretive methodologies, and through interviewing these couples, I focused on meanings they assigned to marriage, as well as how they integrated their personal experiences of marriage within the sociopolitical milieu. I begin by describing the extraordinary contextual events that began on March 2, 2004. I follow with a description of the sociopolitical landscape surrounding same-sex marriage, which includes historical events within which these marriages were embedded, as well as the contemporary context. I contend that an understanding of the sociopolitical environment within which these events are located, is necessary in order to gain a deeper appreciation of the subjective experiences of these couples. The meaning of marriage for these couples was found to be symbolic and pragmatic. Contextual influences on meaning included personal, sociocultural and political. Interviewees described marriage as being about caretaking and love, conforming to social norms, communicating with others, legitimacy, validation, equality, rights and benefits. The literature is scant on heterosexual motivations to marry, which may indicate a social norm so embedded that it remains unquestioned. Motivations for these participants was a complex weaving of the personal and the political. The meaning of marriage for interviewees was fluid, complex and sometimes contradictory. They described unexpected changes to the symbolic meaning of marriage and the importance of marriage as a result of their marriage experiences.