License to Wed

What Legal Marriage Means to Same-Sex Couples

271 pages

June, 2015

ISBN: 9781479878437



Also available in




Kimberly D. Richman is Associate Professor of Sociology and Legal Studies at the University of San Francisco.

All books by Kimberly D. Richman

A critical reader of the history of marriage understands that it is an institution that has always been in flux. It is also a decidedly complicated one, existing simultaneously in the realms of religion, law, and emotion. And yet recent years have seen dramatic and heavily waged battles over the proposition of including same sex couples in marriage. Just what is at stake in these battles?
License to Wed examines the meanings of marriage for couples in the two first states to extend that right to same sex couples: California and Massachusetts. The two states provide a compelling contrast: while in California the rights that go with marriage—inheritance, custody, and so forth—were already granted to couples under the state’s domestic partnership law, those in Massachusetts did not have this same set of rights. At the same time, Massachusetts has offered civil marriage consistently since 2004; Californians, on the other hand, have experienced a much more turbulent legal path. And yet, same-sex couples in both states seek to marry for a variety of interacting, overlapping, and evolving reasons that do not vary significantly by location.
The evidence shows us that for many of these individuals, access to civil marriage in particular—not domestic partnership alone, no matter how broad—and not a commitment ceremony alone, no matter how emotional—is a home of such personal, civic, political, and instrumental resonance that it is ultimately difficult to disentangle the many meanings of marriage. This book attempts to do so, and in the process reveals just what is at stake for these couples, how access to a legal institution fundamentally alters their consciousness, and what the impact of legal inclusion is for those traditionally excluded.


  • "This is a carefully researched and skillfully written book which makes important contributions to the literatures on legal consciousness, law and emotion, and same-sex marriage. Richman gives us one of the first detailed descriptions of the experiences and views of same-sex couples who entered legal marriages in the U.S., and her account is both highly readable and intellectually sophisticated."

    —Kathleen E. Hull, author of Same-Sex Marriage: The Cultural Politics of Love and Law

  • "Richman's interviews and analysis highlight the multi-layered meanings of marriage—romantic, political, practical, and symbolic—to the gay and lesbian couples who first succeeded (or failed) to secure legal recognition for their unions. An illuminating and moving study."

    —Stephanie Coontz, author of A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s

  • "License to Wed is a wonderfully rich, deep, and surprising book that will change your understanding of why gay couples have fought so hard to marry. Others have explored the legal and political battles behind these struggles, but Richman pushes us to deeper ground, where the personal and political meanings of marriage intersect and diverge in unexpected ways. This is a masterful and original work that will require both conservatives and progressives to evaluate the marriage equality movement in new ways."

    —Shannon Minter, National Center for Lesbian Rights

  • "This book addresses a timely and still evolving issue with directness and sensitivity while rigorously examining the legal basis for same-sex marriage."

    —, Library Journal

  • "Richman fully grasps how marriage plays out differently for same-sex couples. She commences her book with an erudite history of the gay-marriage movement, capturing the community politics of assimilation and marginalization, as well as the larger societal debates, that provide the context for her subjects' motivations . . . . Her book provides essential insights about marriage that every family lawyer working with same-sex couples needs to understand to fully grasp their clients' situation and provide them effective representation."

    —Frederick Hertz, California Lawyer

  • "In License to Wed: What Legal Marriage Means to Same-Sex Couples, Richman takes on the legal ramifications of marriage for same-sex and queer identifying couples in Massachusetts and California. In 2004, the Supreme Court found that same-sex couples had the right to marry. After the glow of equality wore off, lawyers and couples in California and Massachusetts were left with questions about how far their rights extended. This book looks to answer those questions." 

    —Kitty Drexel, Edge

  • "Richman’s study is thorough and written in an unaffected, judicious style. Her analysis demonstrates that same-sex couples who are able to marry legally often find transcendent meaning in the experience. Given that most states prohibit same-sex couples from being legally married, License to Wed adds compelling personal reasons to the legal arguments for the validity of the struggle for marriage equality.”

    —, The Gay and Lesbian Review

  • “The book is well organized and written in an engaging, non-technical manner, making it accessible to both academic audiences and well-educated general readers. A genuinely good read, Richman’s timely contribution to the understanding of same-sex marriage (and marriage more generally) will appeal especially to students of legal studies, political science, and sociology.”


  • “Richman offers valuable insight into the relationship between the legal, the personal, and the societal. Richman contributes to the same-sex marriage literature by offering further examples of some themes already prevalent in the literature, while offering new explications of couples’ experiences as well."

    Sex Roles