When Gay People Get Married

What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

307 pages

25 illustrations

November, 2010

ISBN: 9780814709306



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M. V. Lee Badgett is Professor of Economics and director of the Center for Public Policy & Administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and also serves as research director of the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA School of Law. She is the author of Money, Myths, and Change: The Economic Lives of Lesbians and Gay Men and co-editor of Sexual Orientation Discrimination: An International Perspective.

All books by M. V. Lee Badgett

Winner of the 2010 Distinguished Book Award from the American Psychological Association’s 44th Division (the Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues)

The summer of 2008 was the summer of love and commitment for gays and lesbians in the United States. Thousands of same-sex couples stood in line for wedding licenses all over California in the first few days after same-sex marriage was legalized. On the other side of the country, Massachusetts, the very first state to give gay couples marriage rights, took the last step to full equality by allowing same-sex couples from other states to marry there as well. These happy times for same-sex couples were the hallmark of true equality for some, yet others questioned whether the very bedrock of society was crumbling. What would this new step portend?

In order to find out the impact of same-sex marriage, M. V. Lee Badgett traveled to a land where it has been legal for same-sex couples to marry since 2001: the Netherlands. Badgett interviews gay couples to find out how this step has affected their lives. We learn about the often surprising changes to their relationships, the reactions of their families, and work colleagues. Moreover, Badgett is interested in the ways that the institution itself has been altered for the larger society. How has the concept of marriage changed? When Gay People Get Married gives readers a primer on the current state of the same-sex marriage debate, and a new way of framing the issue that provides valuable new insights into the political, social, and personal stakes involved.

The experiences of other countries and these pioneering American states serve as a crystal ball as we grapple with this polarizing issue in the American context. The evidence shows both that marriage changes gay people more than gay people change marriage, and that it is the most liberal countries and states making the first move to recognize gay couples. In the end, Badgett compellingly shows that allowing gay couples to marry does not destroy the institution of marriage and that many gay couples do benefit, in expected as well as surprising ways, from the legal, social, and political rights that the institution offers.


  • When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage provides a well-grounded contribution to the arguments needed to fight for full rights for LGBT people here in the United States and around the world.”

    —International Socialist Review

  • "In When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Gay Marriage, Badgett offers perspective on same-sex marriage through carefully considered evidence emerging from other Western societies that have recognized civil protections for same-sex couples. In doing so, Badgett offers a unique book different from other works that may present purely legal, political, or historical views of same-sex marriage. Badgett's book will help scholars in a variety of social scientific fields and members of the public to gain a more full and realistic understanding of same-sex marriage and its place in societies."

    —Pamela J. Lannutti, Sex Roles

  • “Badgett’s cogent and comprehensive study of the societal implications of same-sex marriage is learned and persuasive; gays and lesbians who once again pick up their protest signs and banners might do well to bring along Badgett’s book as well.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Amid the intense controversy still surrounding same-sex marriage in the U.S., Badgett speaks in a refreshingly tempered voice. . . . It’s a fine piece of social-science research, painstakingly detailed and compelling in its findings.”

    Ms. Magazine

  • “This is the best analysis of same-sex marriage to date. A brilliant book.”

    —Verta Taylor, co-author of Drag Queens at the 801 Cabaret

  • “On the heels of marriage debates all over the country, professor M.V. Lee Badgett comes out with an in-depth take on the big marriage questions: why and how? Badgett looks at marriage from all sides of the equation: sociological trends, the specific rights at hand as well as the interesting prospects of how a community shaped by legal inequality will adjust to unimaginable legal equality.”


  • “Badgett’s gleanings are enlightening . . . for anyone who cares about the issues raised by legalizing civil marriage for same-sex couples.”

    California Lawyer

  • "When Gay People Get Married devotes considerable time to contemplating whether marriage discrimination against same-sex couples can be equitably rectified by alternative forms of family recognition--something that could satisfy or at least appeal to both conservative and radical opponents of marriage.”

    Women’s Review of Books

  • “An eminently readable volume that draws on state population data, survesy, and Badget’s own interviews.”

    Against The Current