One Marriage Under God

The Campaign to Promote Marriage in America

273 pages

April, 2012

ISBN: 9780814737132



Also available in



Part of the Intersections series


Melanie Heath is Assistant Professor of Sociology at McMaster University, Ontario.

All books by Melanie Heath

The meaning and significance of the institution of marriage has engendered angry and boisterous battles across the United States. While the efforts of lesbians and gay men to make marriage accessible to same-sex couples have seen increasing success, these initiatives have sparked a backlash as campaigns are waged to “protect” heterosexual marriage in America. Less in the public eye is government legislation that embraces the idea of marriage promotion as a necessary societal good. 
In this timely and extensive study of marriage politics, Melanie Heath uncovers broad cultural anxieties that fuel on-the-ground practices to reinforce a boundary of heterosexual marriage, questioning why marriage has become an issue of pervasive national preoccupation and anxiety, and explores the impact of policies that seek to reinstitutionalize heterosexual marriage in American society. From marriage workshops for the general public to relationship classes for welfare recipients to marriage education in high school classrooms, One Marriage Under God documents in meticulous detail the inner workings of ideologies of gender and heterosexuality in the practice of marriage promotion to fortify a concept of “one marriage,” an Anglo-American ideal of Christian, heterosexual monogamy.


  • "Melanie Heath's brilliant ethnography raises crucial questions about our obsession with marriage and, in the process, tells us a great deal about belonging and inequality in America."

    —Arlene Stein, author of Shameless: Sexual Dissidence in American Culture

  • "Nuanced, incisive. . .a compelling piece of scholarship, and a provocative contribution to the public debate about the nature and purpose of marriage."

    —Elizabeth Long, author of Book Clubs: Women and the Uses of Reading in Everyday Life

  • "Heath’s exemplary scholarship raises critical heterosexual studies to new heights by uncovering the interests and contradictions that underpin the struggle for marriage equality in the U.S."

    —Chrys Ingraham, author of White Weddings: Romancing Heterosexuality in Popular Culture

  • "Recommended [for] graduate students/faculty."


  • "Heath's brilliant ethnography will contribute much to our understanding of marriage and marriage promotion in the United States...her work forces us as scholars to be more critical of how these programs are working and compels us to try harder to develop new ways forward."

    Sex Roles

  • "Heath convincingly demonstrates how marriage intensifies racial, cultural, and economic inequality and cultivates a form of individualism that promotes market fundamentalism with religious zeal."

    Sociology of Religion

  • "Not only is this book engaging as sociology, it is authoritative on the specifics."

    American Journal of Sociology

  • “Heath’s work is ambitious, addressing multiple populations and connecting several large themes, including religion, gender, sexuality, race, and poverty, into a coherent argument about marriage promotion. […] [T]he breadth of Heath’s research is remarkable and her insights about marriage promotion astounding.”

    Social Forces

  • "One Marriage Under God [is] an illuminating ethnographic study."

    Women's Review of Books