Legally Straight

Sexuality, Childhood, and the Cultural Value of Marriage

208 pages

December, 2017

ISBN: 9780814775981



Add to Cart Available: 12/8/2017

Also available in


LawLGBT Studies

Part of the Critical America series


Joe Rollins is Professor of Political Science at Queens College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. His research interests emphasize gender and sexuality as they are negotiated in the American legal system. He has also served as Co-Editor of Women’s Studies Quarterly.

All books by Joe Rollins

Argues that cultural conceptions of children – and childhood – played a key role in legalizing gay marriage
Legally Straight offers a critical reading of the legal debates over lesbian and gay marriage in the United States. The book draws on key judicial opinions to trace how our understanding of heterosexuality and marriage has changed. Upon closer inspection, it seemed that the cultural value of marriage was becoming tarnished and the trouble appeared to center on one very specific issue: reproduction.
As opponents of lesbian and gay marriage emphasized the link between marriage and accidental pregnancy, the evidence mounted, the arguments proliferated, and resistance began to turn against itself. Heterosexuality, it seemed for a moment, was little more than a set of palliative prescriptions for the worst of human behavior, and children became the victims. It thus became the province of the courts to reinforce the cultural value of marriage by resisting what came to be known as the “procreation argument,” the assertion that marriage exists primarily to regulate the unruly aspects of heterosexual reproduction. Cultural conceptions of children and childhood were being put at risk as gays and lesbians were denied marriage, so that writing lesbian and gay families into the marriage law became the better option. 


  • "Legally Straight offers powerful interventions into a dazzlingly broad range of fields--political science, queer studies, straightness studies, feminist studies, childhood studies, and family studies.  Rollins carefully traces the evolving judicial deployment of reproduction and childhood, showing us the ways that heteronormativity—both as a structural formations and as a metaphor—gives shape to seemingly gender- and sexuality-neutral laws and their interpretations. A well-researched example of the mutually constitutive relationship between law and culture, this book is a must read for anyone interested in the relationship between gender, sexuality, and legal personhood."  

    —Jane Ward, Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies, University of California Riverside

  • "Legally Straight is an important book that contributes new insights and arguments to debates within LGBTQ, feminist, gender and sexuality, and critical legal studies. Through meticulous analysis of US case law, history and social science, Prof. Rollins illuminates some of the mixed blessings for gays and lesbians of being assimilated into the “charmed inner circle” of legal marriage.  Above all, the originality and surprise of this fascinating book lie in the compelling evidence it marshals to show how gay and lesbian marriage won the imprimatur of US courts because of profound shifts in the gendered meanings of childhood."   

    —Rosalind Petchesky, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Political Science, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY

  • "This book provides excellent interdisciplinary insight on the historical, rhetorical, religious, cultural, social, political, economic, stereotypical, and legal aspects of how American marriage laws gradually expanded from 1971 until 2015 to include same-gender couples without impinging on opposite-gender couples' ability to marry."